HENDERSON, Nev. — Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby was watching the play from the sidelines, but he couldn’t help but run onto the field, jump into the air and collide with linebacker Robert Spillane in jubilation. Spillane had just made an interception — his second of the day — during 11-on-11 drills against the San Francisco 49ers, and Crosby and the rest of the defense showed him some love.
“We’re in this training camp setting together and we’re with each other all day,” Spillane said Friday. “So you form these relationships and bonds with teammates, and those bonds are stronger than you think. Having that love and support from your brother next to you lets you play free. You trust the guys around you and you’re able to go make plays.”
The Raiders defense dominated the 49ers offense Friday on the second and final day of joint practices between the two teams, finishing with six total interceptions. In addition to Spillane’s efforts, linebacker Luke Masterson, cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Duke Shelley and safety Marcus Epps all contributed one each. The Raiders also didn’t allow a touchdown during the 11-on-11 drills until a late rushing score by 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.
From what I understand, this Raiders defense has become the 85 Bears https://t.co/GUIMdAKyh6
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) August 11, 2023
Outside of making plays on the ball, the Raiders also played tight coverage and didn’t give up many plays downfield. That has been the case throughout training camp, but it was impressive to see it happen against the 49ers, who have a talented group of pass catchers even without star tight end George Kittle, who missed practice Thursday and Friday due to injury. The Raiders linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties deserve a ton of credit for the pass coverage, of course, but so does the defensive line.
“I just love what they’re doing on the back end,” Crosby said Thursday. “They’re getting confidence together, they’re growing, and it bleeds down through the whole defense. I think obviously it starts up front. We bring pressure, and the quarterback can’t hold the ball up. So DBs know that, and they’re breaking and not thinking or second-guessing themselves.”
Crosby is a known commodity, but he has had plenty of help throughout training camp. During both practices with the 49ers, the Raiders’ interior D-line showed out in particular. Defensive tackles Bilal Nichols, Nesta Jade Silvera, Neil Farrell Jr., Byron Young and John Jenkins were all impressive in one-on-one drills. With the interior pass rush active and Crosby doing his thing, the 49ers quarterbacks didn’t have much time to throw in 11-on-11 periods. Naturally, that contributed to their struggles through the air.
Both offenses were focused on the pass, which is typical for practice settings, but it did make it difficult to gauge how the Raiders defense performed against the run. The preseason game against the 49ers on Sunday will paint a clearer picture.
Still, the Las Vegas defense more than held its own across two practice sessions against one of the league’s most explosive and efficient offenses. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it remains a positive step forward in their quest for improvement.
“Everyone on this defense has a chip on their shoulder,” Spillane said. “We’re looked at as a weak point and one of the weakest defenses in the league. And we don’t see ourselves as that, so it’s our opportunity to go out there and compete every day, make each other better and just be a cohesive unit.”
In both practices, the energy throughout the Raiders defense was contagious. Seemingly every time they made a play, the unit would erupt on the sideline and celebrate. It’s all reflective of the players’ growing confidence in what they can accomplish.
“You can’t go out there and talk about confidence but be quiet on the field,” Crosby said. “And I tell the coaches that all the time. Sometimes they’re like, ‘Chill out.’ And I’m like, ‘No, this is us. This is our identity. This is different.’ We’re not going to be what we were in the past. We’re going to be what we are now, and that’s a confident defense that’s going to fly around. We’re super excited about the direction we’re going.”
For the team as a whole to make a leap, that success on defense has to continue and carry over to the regular season. The unit’s leader, Crosby, plans to make sure that happens.
“Every single day I come in here, I think about winning,” Crosby said. “I don’t do this year-round to come in and not make the playoffs. I’m sick of that s—. … I want to get back to the playoffs.”
• Friday during practice, Raiders receiver Davante Adams took a big hit from 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward during the first snap of 11-on-11 drills, had to be helped off the field by trainers and had his right leg attended to for several minutes. He gingerly limped off the field with a leg sleeve around his right shin, went into the training room and didn’t return for the remainder of practice. It was a scary sight, but Adams’ injury is minor, according to a league source.
“I don’t think it was crazy serious,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “It was just kind of a bang-bang play. It was totally clean on both sides.”
• The Raiders had 12 players who didn’t practice at all Friday: running backs Josh Jacobs (unsigned) and Brittain Brown, receivers Hunter Renfrow and Chris Lacy, tight ends Michael Mayer and Jesper Horsted, offensive tackle Brandon Parker, defensive ends Chandler Jones and Tyree Wilson, linebacker Darius Harris and cornerbacks David Long Jr. and Brandon Facyson.
• The Raiders signed eight-year veteran running back Damien Williams on Friday. He seems unlikely to make the roster, but with Jacobs, Brown and Austin Walter (injured reserve) currently out, the Raiders needed a practice body in the backfield.
• Without Jacobs, Adams, Renfrow and Mayer, the Raiders’ first-team offense wasn’t able to do much against the 49ers’ starting defense Friday. Considering the circumstances, though, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
• The Raiders aren’t expected to field many starters Sunday against the 49ers, but it’ll still be worth tuning in to see the healthy rookies and the depth of the roster in action. Next week, the Raiders head to Thousand Oaks, Calif., for joint practices with the Rams on Wednesday and Thursday.
(Photo of Maxx Crosby: Steve Marcus / Getty Images)
The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.