Updated October 23, 2020 - 5:22 pm
It has taken some time for safety Jeff Heath to find his role on the Raiders defense after spending his first seven seasons with the Cowboys.
That role is expected to be expanded this week when the Raiders host the Buccaneers after starting safety Johnathan Abram was officially ruled out Friday because of close contact with COVID 19-positive Trent Brown.
Heath showed he was ready for the opportunity with a solid performance in the win against Kansas City two weeks ago.
After averaging just 10 percent of the defensive snaps through the first four games, the 29-year-old saw the field for 42 percent of the defensive plays.
Heath rewarded his coaches for giving him the opportunity with a pivotal interception of Patrick Mahomes that he ran back 47 yards to set up a key touchdown.
“I’m getting a better feel for the defense,” he said earlier this week. “It was definitely a challenge coming over and being in my first year with a new team in the middle of COVID without getting to participate in an offseason program, then the odd training camp. It probably took a little longer than I would have liked in order to feel comfortable. But it’s a long season and that’s why you practice so you can get better as the season goes on.
“I’m not sure what my role is going to be going forward, but I’m ready to contribute however they ask of me.”
Next up is another big challenge as Heath is a leading candidate to start Sunday against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Heath has played against Brady twice before, so there is some familiarity.
He got just a few snaps in a 2015 meeting, but did go through a full week of preparation with his teammates. Last year, Heath played nearly every snap of a 13-9 loss to the Patriots and had five tackles, defended a pass and got one hit on Brady.
“They do some of the same stuff he did in New England, but it’s a new offense,” Heath said of the Buccaneers. “But when you watch him, he’s so smart and gets the offense in the right play so he doesn’t give you chances to make plays. He’s pretty sound, pretty disciplined. It’s always tough playing against him. Obviously, his success speaks for itself. Definitely a challenge for us, not only him but their offense in general.
“We’ve played a lot of good offenses so far and this is another one.”
Heath believes he’s ready.
Wide receiver Bryan Edwards has been declared out Sunday and will miss his third straight game with knee and ankle injuries.
Cornerback Keisean Nixon also is out with a groin injury, highlighting the non-COVID injury report for the Raiders.
There are question marks along the defensive line as tackle Maliek Collins (shoulder) and end Carl Nassib (toe) are both listed as questionable after getting in three limited practice sessions this week.
No other Raiders will carry injury designations into Sunday’s game.
Brown feeling ‘better’
Raiders coach Jon Gruden is hoping to have at least four of his five starters on the offensive line back on the active roster in time for Sunday’s game.
The exception would be right tackle Trent Brown, who has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not play.
“The good news is that when I have talked to Trent, he is feeling better and hopefully we get him back here soon,” Gruden said. “He’s a big part of this team.”
Brown has missed nearly four full games this season, so the Raiders have grown accustomed to playing without him. Much of the responsibility of replacing him is expected to fall on Sam Young, who has practiced in full this week despite a knee injury and does not carry an injury designation into the game.
“Well, we played four games without Trent and we used four different right tackles,” Gruden said, “so we’re experienced at adjusting and we’ll have a right tackle that’s prepared and ready to play.”