ALAMEDA _ Reggie Nelson put to rest any thought that there was residual bitterness about the way he left the Jacksonville Jaguars when Jack Del Rio was the head coach.
Nelson, an unrestricted free agent safety who signed with the Raiders Thursday, was a first-round draft pick who lost his starting job in his third year in Jacksonville and was dealt to Cincinnati for cornerback David Jones _ who had been a Bengals waiver claim.
“I’m excited man. I was a different dude when they drafted me,” Nelson said in a conference call. “I’m a veteran now, wiser. I’m just excited to see what he’s got going on in Oakland and to be a part of that. I mean, I love Jack and always have. I’m excited to be reunited with him.”
The contract, according to NFL.com, was for two years and worth up to $16 million. Nelson becomes the third starting player added since the start of free agency along with cornerback Sean Smith and linebacker Bruce Irvin.
Nelson, who turns 33 in September, is coming off his best season with the Bengals, making his first Pro Bowl and intercepting eight passes. He will replace Charles Woodson, who retired following the season.
But rather than arrive as the wise old hand as Woodson did, Nelson comes to the Raiders believing he’s got a lot to learn.
“Trust me, you can’t replace Charles Woodson at all,” Nelson said. “the only thing I can be is Reggie and continue to play my game and get better. I can’t worry about filling (his) shoes because he had one heck of a career. You’re talking about a Hall of Famer.
“The only thing I can do is what Ken (Norton) and Jack ask me to do and play the game and continue to go get that ball.”
Getting the ball is something Nelson has done well over a nine-year career with 30 interceptions, 80 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
What Nelson has in common with Woodson is that as a safety past the age of 30, he found there wasn’t a big market for his services despite a career year.
“I mean, I was shocked. I expected to be signed,” Nelson said. “But patience is a virtue. I was just being patient and waiting on the right time. After Oakland came and Jack was in Oakland, so I felt comfortable coming back with Jack.”
Nelson was enthused about playing for not only Del Rio, but Norton, the defensive coordinator, and defensive backs coaches Rod Woodson and Marcus Robertson, noting their years in the league as successful players.
“I’m just anxious to learn from these guys and keep learning,” Nelson said. “You always can learn something new to the game and some excitement that they can give, to give you that burst . . . I can’t wait to keep scratching with them to be a part of something.”
Nelson has started seven postseason games, something he hopes to continue with the Raiders.
“Reggie (McKenzie) and Mr. Davis have been doing a great job putting pieces of this puzzle together,” Nelson said. “I’m just excited I could be a piece of the puzzle that they have. They’re adding pieces like Sean Smith, Irvin, that’s just crazy, and that’s not even including the draft. I can’t wait to get going.”
The No. 21 overall pick out of Florida in 2007, Nelson played on a national championship team and was the winner of the Jack Tatum Award in 2006, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.
Nelson had five interceptions as a rookie with Jacksonville and two in 2008. Nelson struggled in 2009, was criticized publicly by Del Rio at one point and benched for the final two games of the season before being traded to the Bengals.