ALAMEDA — One of the more overlooked players on the Raiders’ roster has the size and ability that generally suits the safety position.
Six-foot-3 cornerback Keith McGill is taking practice reps where he can get them, and became the last rookie currently on Oakland’s active roster to log meaningful playing time.
McGill played 50 of the Raiders’ 70 defensive snaps Sunday against Buffalo, covering his man well enough to force Kyle Orton to throw elsewhere. The Raiders secondary is a depleted unit, opening the door for McGill to start as a nickel corner.
During training camp, McGill said the Raiders staff hadn’t spoken to him much about a switch. The same, for the most part, remains true. McGill said:
“As of right now, I’m just taking reps where I can get them. I started running nickel late in the season. Started learning safety. But I’ve always been primarily a corner here, and honestly, it was just me trying to get on the field, trying to learn those extra positions and trying to help the team out.”
McGill was drafted in the fourth round in May after playing his senior year with the Utah Utes, and fellow rookie T.J. Carrie outperformed him during training camp. McGill became a last resort to play, creeping closer to action as injuries mounted like an angel atop a Christmas tree.
Profootballfocus.com gave McGill the highest grade of any corner on Oakland’s roster, though his sample is too small to read into. Only Nieko Thorpe has fewer snaps. In 68 snaps this season, McGill has only allowed one catch and been thrown at only four times, far from the norm for a rookie defensive back.
Head coach Tony Sparano took notice Sunday:
“When you put a young guy in a game like that they don’t get the reps, they don’t see the pictures, it tells you that they’re paying attention mentally, and in meetings, it tells you that the coaches are doing a good job.”
“Anytime one of those young guys goes in the game like that, and is called on to play that many plays, which, we knew that the play count would be high, we didn’t know that it’d be that high … but in that situation, I was impressed with what Keith did.”
Before Sunday’s tilt against the Bills, McGill had only managed 18 snaps in the first 14 games. Without the meaningful time, it’d be easy to expect some rust. After all, it had been more than a full calendar year since he started a football game of any sort.
On rust and fatigue, McGill said:
“I felt alright. I felt good. You can’t complain when you’re just a little winded, complain on the sideline more than being in the game. … I just had to be ready and practice was a big part of that.”
McGill was SFBay’s fifth ranked corner coming out of the draft, so one might wonder why it took so long for him to play a game. Much has been made late of another contributor, running back Latavius Murray, who’d been shelved for the majority of the season before starting in all three Raiders wins.
Whether or not the rookie gets more playing time before the season is officially done is a question that will be answered Sunday when the team suits up in Denver.
If he does get that time, it’s likely he’ll see the arm of Peyton Manning. Denver’s loss at Cincinnati Monday night created a murky picture for the AFC’s second playoff seed and a first round playoff bye.
The way the Denver offense operates, often using three wide receivers and one tight end, it’s not far fetched to think McGill could see even more playing time regardless of who’s healthy and who isn’t.
Quarterback Derek Carr was sick Tuesday, and did not practice. There is no requirement for a team to issue an injury report until Wednesday — this week hold a special holiday schedule — but there’s no concern that he’ll miss time, judging by practice and the face of Sparano.