ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Any old beef between Reggie Nelson and Jack Del Rio is just that -- old and forgotten. At least, that’s the safety’s take in the wake of his signing a two-year deal to renew acquaintances with Del Rio with the Oakland Raiders.
Let’s just say Nelson and Del Rio did not exactly part on the best of terms when they were both with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I’m excited, man,” Nelson said on a conference call Thursday. “I was a different dude when (Jacksonville) drafted me. I’m a veteran now, wiser. I’m just excited to see what (Del Rio) has going on in Oakland and, like I said, just be a part of that.
“I love Jack and always have, so I’m just excited to be reunited with him.”
And there you have it.
Because after Del Rio’s Jaguars used a first-round pick, No. 21 overall, on the Jack Tatum Award winner from Florida in the 2007 draft, Nelson rewarded the Jaguars with five interceptions as a rookie.
He added two more picks in 2008 but was then benched late in 2009 while getting criticized by Del Rio after a particularly bad game against the Indianapolis Colts, when he allowed Reggie Wayne to score a 65-yard game-winner when he tried to strip the receiver rather than tackle him after biting hard on a Peyton Manning pump-fake.
“(Nelson) didn’t play well,” Del Rio said at the time, per NBCSports.com. “You can’t stay in the lineup playing like that.
“The biggest thing we didn’t want to do was give anything cheap over the top (and) he’s got to be over the top of that and be able to tackle the guy. It was probably not a good idea to try to punch the ball out.”
Nelson enjoyed his finest season as a pro last year, tying for the league lead in interceptions with eight, including one of Raiders backup Matt McGloin in last year’s season opener, and getting his first Pro Bowl bid at the age of 32.
And maybe, just maybe, his relative advanced age had something to do with his lasting on the free-agent market so long.
“I mean, I was shocked,” Nelson said. “I expected to be signed (early), but patience is a virtue. I just was being patient and waiting on the right team. It so happened Oakland came and Jack was in Oakland, so I felt comfortable coming back with Jack and just reuniting with him.”
And while Nelson will be 33 on Sept. 21, he replaces a future Hall of Famer in Charles Woodson, who was still playing at a high level at 39 last season.
Pressure in replacing a franchise legend?
“Trust me, you can’t replace Charles Woodson at all,” Nelson said. “The only guy I can be is Reggie and continue to play my game and get better. My name might not mean much compared to Charles Woodson, so I can’t come in and worry about filling shoes that he did because he had one heck of a career. You’re talking about a Hall of Famer.
“It’s nothing but respect to Charles. All that I can do is come in and do what Ken (Norton Jr., defensive coordinator) and Jack ask me to do and play my game and continue to go get that ball.”
Nelson is the latest high-profile free agent defensive player to choose Oakland, along with outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith and outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who re-signed earlier this week though his suspension does not end until November.
They join Khalil Mack, who was named All-Pro at both outside linebacker and defensive end following his 15-sack season.
“I’m just excited that I can be a part, a piece, to that puzzle,” Nelson said. “I’m pretty sure they’re not done with adding pieces and getting this team going in the right direction like they’ve been doing.
“Those guys, Sean Smith and Irvin? That’s just crazy. I mean, this defense has been great and just the pieces they’ve put together this year, and that’s not even (including) the draft. I just can’t wait to get going and keep adding pieces to the team.”