Many perishable skills in life are compared to riding a bike. Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Darius Philon is doing a great job validating this statement. After two full years removed from the NFL, Philon is back in the league. This time he’s in Silver and Black and exhibiting why he should stay.
This offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders hired Gus Bradley as their new defensive coordinator. Bradley is the creator of the famed Legion of Boom defense in Seattle. While the secondary garnered fame with their personalities, it was their fierce pass rush that ignited that defense.
Without pressure on the quarterback, no DB can sustain coverage for more than a couple of seconds. Eventually backs and receivers will break free. Raiders patriarch Al Davis famously said, “The other team’s quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.” Count Bradley in as a firm believer in this philosophy.
Bradley likes to send waves of pass rushers at the offense. He prefers to distribute the pass rushing snaps evenly between his first and second stringers. This will keep his players fresher and more effective at getting to the QB over a full four quarters.
In 2020, the Raiders finished 29th in sacks with a paltry 21. To help address the issue, they signed EDGE-Rusher Yannick Ngakoue to team up with Maxx Crosby on the outside. The next order of business was to improve the pressure up the middle. For this, Bradley turned to a familiar face, Darius Philon. He coached the 6-foot-1, 286 pound Philon for two seasons with the Chargers in 2017 and 2018.
Not surprisingly, Philon had his two best seasons under Bradley’s tutelage. Philon leveraged his success into a 2-year, $10 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Philon would never play a down for the Cardinals however. He was arrested for aggravated assault and was subsequently released before the season started.
It’s uncommon for a player two years removed from the league to come back and make an NFL roster. Thankfully for Raider Nation, Philon is not a common player. In two preseason games, his low center of gravity and quickness off the ball has allowed him to consistently get the better of opposing linemen. He notched a half sack in each game by exploding past would-be blockers.
His most impressive feat came on special teams Saturday night. Attempting to break a 10-10 tie, the Rams lined up for a 43-yard FG. Darius rose up to block Matt Gay’s kick sending the Raiders sideline in a frenzy. Philon’s block would ultimately turn out to be the difference in a closely contested ball game. Las Vegas would go on to win 17-16.
The sacks nor the blocked kick tell the full story. The Raiders have a crowded group across the defensive line. Among them is 2017’s 3rd overall draft pick Solomon Thomas and 2019’s 4th overall draft pick Clelin Ferrell. To date, neither player has lived up to their draft status. What they do possess are elite tools. They’ll continue to get opportunities as coaches try to coax their talent into production.
Philon understands this. He is playing with an urgency and hunger that stands out in games. His familiarity with Bradley and tenacity has all but assured himself a spot on the final 53 man roster.
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