Raiders safety Shalom Luani learns from his first NFL start

BRADENTON, Fla. - As Raiders safety Shalom Luani made his first NFL start last Sunday at Buffalo, one of his former junior college coaches was combing the airwaves in Maui, searching for a broadcast or live stream of the game.

Halakilangi Frank Muagututia is a former defensive back who played at UTEP and briefly in the XFL and Arena Football League. Muagututia is of Samoan descent - like Luani, who hails from American Samoa - and was coaching at Chabot College in Hayward when Luani arrived in 2012.

Luani, Muagututia recalled Tuesday, caught his eye for two reasons. One, most of the Samoan players whom Muagututia had worked with were linemen or linebackers - not fellow safeties. Two, Luani possessed foot speed beyond what Muagututia typically saw in kids from the island.

“When I first saw him - my wife even tells me this, she says I told her this kid, he has a chance to make the NFL,” Muagututia said in a phone call.

Drafted in the seventh round by the Raiders in June, Luani made the 53-man roster out of camp and started Sunday in place of injured Karl Joseph. Luani played 68 of a possible 69 defensive snaps and 16 snaps on special teams, making him the most active Raider in a 34-14 loss to the Bills. Entering the game, he had played five defensive snaps all season.

Luani finished with six tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted in coverage five times and allowed three catches for 52 yards with one pass defensed.

“Shalom did some really good things,” head coach Jack Del Rio said Monday, “and then he had a couple that he’d like to have back.”

Specifically, Del Rio cited a 36-yard pass from Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to receiver Andre Holmes near the Buffalo sideline in the third quarter. Holmes slipped past cornerback Dexter McDonald and Luani was late coming over the top to help. Del Rio added McDonald could have jammed Holmes more at the line of scrimmage.

“Things like that weren’t what they need to be,” Del Rio said. “But (Luani) also made some nice plays. Overall I’d say he was active, had his hands on the ball, near interception. That’s the kind of player he is. He’ll go make some plays like that. I think he’ll learn from it.”

Luani recorded eight interceptions in two seasons at Washington State. The Raiders secondary has no interceptions through eight games this season, and Luani smiled ruefully Tuesday when reminded of his chance Sunday.

“Yeah, I had a shot,” he said. “But next game, man. Looking forward to the next game.”

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