Entering his third NFL season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim this is Raiders safety Johnathan Abram’s make or break season. His rookie year was cut short after only one game. Abram suffered a torn rotator cuff after landing awkwardly with his arm extended.
Fully healthy in 2020, it didn’t take long for Abram to make his presence felt. In the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, he obliterated All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. To say Johnathan Abram hits hard is akin to declaring Las Vegas summers are warm. Abram hit McCaffrey so hard, it wouldn’t be a shock if his father Ed McCaffrey felt the hit too.
Unfortunately for every Madden-style Hit Stick highlight, there were just as many missed tackles and blown coverages. This style of play polarizes the fanbase. On one hand, it harkens back to the days of Jack Tatum. On another hand, it conjures up visions of Stuart Schweigert.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is just the type of coach to get the most out of a thumper like Abram. During his stint with the Seattle Seahawks, he was instrumental in the development of Kam Chancellor. In two short seasons, “Bam Bam Kam” went from a third-string rookie to a Pro Bowl human wrecking ball.
Kam had so many soul snatching collisions that if his highlight film were a greatest hits album it would require a full box set.
In 2013, Bradley was hired as the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach. The roster he inherited lacked the enforcer his defensed needed. In the 2nd Round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Jaguars selected strong safety Johnathan Cyprien. In each of his four seasons with the Jags, Cyprien registered at least 100 tackles.
As the defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Chargers, Bradley once again struck gold. Florida State’s Derwin James fell in the draft to the 17th overall pick. The Chargers quickly turned in the draft card and told Bradley to go to work. That’s exactly what he did.
In his rookie season, Bradley turned James into a First-Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. James finished with 3 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, and 105 tackles. A myriad of injuries has hampered his career, but when he is on the field, James is arguably the best SS in the league.
Are you starting to notice a trend yet? At each of his stops in the NFL, Gus Bradley has had a playmaking alpha male at SS. There is no bigger alpha male on the Raiders defense than Johnathan Abram.
This offseason, Abram was asked to come in a few pounds lighter and more focused. Understanding the gravity of the demands, he ditched the blonde hair, curbed the shenanigans, and rededicated himself. His social media accounts are littered with photos and videos of intense workouts.
Thus far he’s doing everything asked of him and more. He follows Bradley all around the practice facility and has taken a liking to defensive backs coach Ron Milus. Everyone across the league knows Abram is willing and able to lay the lumber, what isn’t known is whether or not he can play under control. Can he display the maturity required to be the leader of the defense? If history is any indication, there is no better man for the job than Gus Bradley. The rest will be up to Abram.
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