After playing Sunday’s opener at Charlotte in an empty stadium, the Raiders realize that they must create their own energy this season.
Fortunately for them, second-year safety Johnathan Abram is a walking, trash-talking nuclear reactor.
“The energy he brings with those hits sets the tone,” quarterback Derek Carr said after a 34-30 victory over the Panthers. “And in this day and age, you’re not going to have fans this year and you’re on the road, you’ve got to bring your own energy. You’ve got to bring your own juice. And he’s the type of player that can bring the energy and bring the juice.”
Carr pointed to one play in particular in which Abram walloped Panthers star Christian McCaffrey as he tried to get around the right edge on a running play in the third quarter.
“I just heard ‘Wap,’ and I look up and sure enough it’s 24 hitting 22,” Carr said. “That stuff ignites a sideline for sure.”
Abram immediately jumped up and celebrated the hit, a celebration that inspired his teammates and might have triggered McCaffrey into spiking the ball in Abram’s direction on his fourth-quarter touchdown.
That type of play always has been important in an emotional game such as football, but they take on added significance this season.
“Basically, we’ve got to bring our own energy,” Abram said. “You don’t have fans to feed off, the highs and the lows, so we have to be our own fans. We have to do a better job next week. We have the Saints coming to us, so we have to bring energy the entire four quarters.”
Abram’s honest assessment is valid. While the Raiders’ defense did enough to win and came through in the biggest moment with a fourth-down stop to seal the victory, there are plenty of areas in which improvement is necessary.
The same can be said of Abram, who played his first full game after suffering a season-ending injury in the opener of his rookie year in 2019.
The first-round pick had 13 tackles Sunday, seven more than any other Raiders defender. Coach Jon Gruden and Abram’s teammates raved about his performance, yet Pro Football Focus rated it as a 56.7. That ranked 51st out of 79 safeties graded in Week 1, but obviously it doesn’t tell the full story of what his presence meant to the team.
“It was a very sloppy performance on the defense’s part,” Abram said. “We’ve got to go out and execute (way better) than we did. We gave up a few big plays, and if you give up big plays in this league, you get beat.
”We were fortunate enough to come away with a ‘W.’”
Gruden was far more optimistic about the performance of Abram, one of two defensive players to be on the field for all 67 snaps.
“John Abram did a great job,” Gruden said. “He made a lot of tackles. He made some good physical tackles, made some one-on-one tackles. Showed good range, took good pursuit angles. Played with great energy.”
Abram also showed his versatility. He lined up 34 times as a deep free safety and 21 times in the box. He lined up at slot corner for eight snaps and four times took a stance on the defensive line
“John is a character on and off the field,” running back Josh Jacobs said. “If you just see the way that he flies around, he brings that juice to that defense. I just catch myself watching him like a fan.”