When the Raiders drafted linebacker Tanner Muse in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he was seen as a bit of a project. He played safety at Clemson, and Las Vegas planned to move him to the front seven of the defense.
His “project” status appeared cemented after Muse had a rough training camp a year ago and was placed on the injured reserve list with a toe injury. But under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, a healthy Muse is penciled in as the starting strong-side linebacker in the Raiders’ 4-3 front.
Furthermore, Muse said the switch to linebacker has been easy. Okay, he didn’t quite say that, but he came close. He exuded confidence in talking about his new role with reporters on Tuesday.
“It felt great,” Muse said, recalling his snaps during the Raiders’ first preseason game against the Seahawks. “I spun down a lot at safety at Clemson, so it felt natural. I was in the spots that I’ve been in throughout my career, so it was no big deal. Just a little adjustment. I use my hands a little more, but outside of that, it was great.”
Well then. Muse’s development on the Raiders is apparently accelerating rapidly.
It helps that he’s healthy, to be sure. Muse said that he no longer has to think about his health when he’s on the field and can simply react and use his instincts. “I can just explode out of cuts and drops. It’s a new me,” he said.
Bradley’s simpler scheme, as opposed to last year’s defense led by Paul Guenther, can only help the situation. Also, it must be noted that Bradley uses his “nickel” defense — with only two linebackers — more often than he opts for his 4-3 front. So Muse will play plenty of special teams, too, and he knows he’ll have to excel there.
“I’ve got to be the guy [on special teams] and make a lot of plays,” Muse said of his role on the Raiders. Muse also mentioned that he’s been tasked with knowing how to play each linebacker spot.
But if Muse can start at outside linebacker, or simply add quality depth to that position in just his second year, it would be a huge turnaround from his rough start in the NFL. Even providing a steady hand on special teams would be a bit of a surprise.
If he can consistently play with the confidence he displayed on Tuesday, however, the Raiders should have a quality piece to add to the roster when it appeared all they had was a project.