Are you tired of hearing the term ‘next man up’ yet? The Raiders are probably just as tired of saying it. Each week it’s another instance of a reserve having to step up. Sometimes that yields fairly positive results.
Nicholas Morrow had arguably his best game last Sunday against the Broncos. He was starting in place of Cory Littleton who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. And it looks like Littleton could remain on that list this week when the Raiders face the Chiefs.
Littleton is one of 10 Raiders defenders who are missing practice this week due to either testing positive for COVID-19 or close contact quarantine. Leaving Morrow in the middle looking at a lot of somewhat unfamiliar faces around him.
“It’s definitely a little different,” Morrow said of lining up with the current defense. “A lot of the starting guys aren’t in there… so you got to adjust to it and hopefully those guys get back soon.”
Players Morrow is used to seeing around him who do not include Littleton, DT Maliek Collins, DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Clelin Ferrell, and SS Johnathan Abram.
All but Ferrell and Littleton are expected cleared in time for the game, but in the meantime, Morrow must help hold down the fort. That goes for the game as well. It’s times like this — for which there has never been a time like this — when Morrow’s familiarity with the defense is a great asset.
“I just think with his knowledge of the system now, his comfort in the system, he’s a guy who can play multiple spots for us. I just think he’s playing real confident right now. He knows what to do. He can see formations and plays before it happens. The biggest thing he’s doing, he’s being a great communicator out there. He’s talking more, he’s alerting guys, he’s setting fronts and setting pressure for us. He’s only going to get better. I really like where he’s going.”
Even in ideal circumstances, Morrow’s contributions have been huge. Littleton has yet to play to the level the Raiders expected when they signed him to a three-year, $35 million contract this offseason. Morrow has stepped in and been a revelation. Though that’s a funny statement considering he’s started 24 games in his four seasons with the Raiders.
That doesn’t mean it won’t click for Littleton in this defense at some point. But for now, he’s not there. Having no offseason due to the pandemic undoubtedly hurt his acclimation. Meanwhile, Morrow is in his third year in this system, having
“I think the biggest thing about this system from the system that I was in my rookie year is there’s a lot of progression based defense,” Morrow continued. “There’s a lot of communication that you have to have either post-snap or pre-snap. So, just getting the terminology down is one thing, understanding the formation’s another thing….that comes through OTA’s, training camp, and being on the field, obviously.”
For now Morrow’s presence like found money. Both replacing Littleton and trying to hold a defense together that is currently decimated. Who knows how much it will matter versus the Chiefs’ elite offense. But the Raiders beat them before. And in their house too, so anything’s possible.