Raiders

Arden Key seeking advice from all sources to set up, finish Raiders sacks

Arden Key seeking advice from all sources to set up, finish Raiders sacks

Arden Key ran straight at Rams offensive tackle Bobby Evans, broke inside and then quickly popped back out. The Raiders edge rusher caught his man off balance, and then he looped right around him for an easy sack during Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Rams at the Coliseum.

Key’s pass-rush was expertly executed, from setup to sack, and celebrated appropriately by the second-year pass rusher.

Evans never stood a chance on that play, and it was Andrew Whitworth’s fault.

Key asked the three-time All-Pro for some advice after Rams-Raiders joint practices in Napa days before the game, and then used it against Whitworth’s teammate.

Whitworth helped Key specifically because, as we all know, Tiger blood runs deep.

“I sought him out,” Key said after the Raiders 14-3 win in the preseason opener. “That’s LSU family right there.”

Whitworth’s main point during these post-practice interactions: Key can tip his pitches.

“We talked the two days we were playing up in Napa and practicing with them,” Key said. “They were telling me something about my rush moves, about how I’m giving it up early. Run at him, and then last second, just do your move.”

That sure looks like what the LSU alumni are discussing here.

Now take a look at Key’s sack. Doesn't it look like he’s following Whitworth’s instructions?

Key always has had the talent and athleticism to be a high-end pass rusher. He just needs proper instruction to get there. He got it in a small dose from Whitworth. Defensive line coach Brenston Buckner has provided steady servings of insight to develop this athletic freak.

Key had to do some physical work this offseason, gaining the strength and size required for opponents to respect power moves. That has helped him apply what others are teaching.

“I got a little stronger, which helps with the bull rush, and now that’s my [baseline] move,” Key said. “So much of the credit goes to ‘Buck.’ I’m really starting to use my hands now. Last year, I didn’t use hands at all. I was using my shoulder and a lot of forearm. If I can use my hands to keep guys off me, I can make moves and use my bend and length and things of that sort.”

Key essentially was on his own last year. He thought Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin would mentor him, but Mack got dealt and Irvin got cut around midseason. He was playing more than he should’ve and giving maximum effort, without many positive results.

“Being a rookie, everything was fast and I put pressure on … all the rookies put pressure on themselves because we were part of Gruden’s first draft class,” Key said. “Things just didn’t go as planned, and we put pressure on ourselves. Now, it’s not a lot of pressure.”

We know all about last year's missed sacks. Key has moved on from that, focused not only on making plays in front of him but creating them as well. He seeks out professional knowledge from all sources, coaches, teammates and opponents alike.

[RELATED: What AB reportedly said to Carr upon return to Raiders camp]

Buckner has said Key at times got beat before the snap, with opponents aware of exactly what he was going to do. Now Key sees several routes to the same backfield, with several variations based on how an opponent reacts

“I have learned more about how to set people up this offseason, using the bull rush as a foundation,” Key said. “You do that enough times, and then you change it up at an important times. That’s when I can get around the edge or bust inside, because he’s thinking one thing and I’m doing another.”

Why Nick Kwiatkoski thought Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Why Nick Kwiatkoski thought Raiders were 'best fit' in NFL free agency

Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t have a massive social media following, but a tweet the veteran linebacker sent out on March 16 quickly went viral.

It didn’t include a single word. It contained a picture of Allegiant Stadium and nothing more, but it was a clear sign that the Las Vegas Raiders had landed their first unrestricted free agent while representing their new market.

Sources later confirmed Kwiatkoski agreed to join the Silver and Black on a three-year, $21 million contract, showing the Raiders were serious about upgrading a long deficient linebacker corps.

The deal came together quickly, on the first day of free agency’s open negotiating window, because Kwiatkoski loved what the Raiders had to say. He would join the Raiders as a full-time, three-down middle linebacker.

“I felt that I’ve earned that spot, and that’s something I looked for in free agency,” Kwiatkoski said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, available in its entirety on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “When they told me that, it was very appealing.”

That wasn’t the only reason the former Chicago Bear signed with the Raiders.

“They called very early and, when I spoke to them, it was very clear there’s an excitement around the whole organization with the move to Las Vegas,” Kwiatkoski said. “That was one of a number of reasons why I [made my decision]. When we played them in London last year and I just loved the mentality they brought to the game where they come right at you. With their defensive scheme, I thought I’d fit right in. I gave it some time and took some other calls, but I ended up thinking the Raiders were the best fit for me.”

There was some thought he’d fit in well as the Bears’ middle linebacker, but that prospect was eliminated when Danny Trevathan signed a contract extension on March 9. Kwiatkoski proved worthy of a starting gig after taking over following Trevathan’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 9.

There was no going back after an excellent eight-game stretch that included 58 tackles, two sacks and interception. Especially, not with teams ready to court him on the open market and make him a major player.

While those numbers look solid, the clip below shows exactly what the Raiders are getting in Kwiatkoski, and he doesn’t even record a stat.

Kwiatkoski put Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook on his back during a Week 4 win over the Vikings, blowing up a play with raw power and aggression.

“That’s an example of how I enjoy playing. I like being physical, going downhill,” Kwiatkoski said. “That’s how I have always played, and I plan on continuing to do that.”

He’ll do that with the Silver and Black, while paired with fellow free-agent addition Cory Littleton.

“He’s a great linebacker,” Kwiatkoski said. “To be able to line up with him and call him my teammate is going to be fun.”

The former LA Ram is a true sideline-to-sideline presence and an excellent coverage linebacker, a perfect complement to Kwiatkoski’s strength going downhill as a run defender and blitzer. The former high school safety, who converted to linebacker at West Virginia, also is confident in coverage and running a defense from the middle linebacker spot.

[RELATED: Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock draft]

Chicago’s fourth-round draft pick back in 2016 always has worked hard and capitalized on opportunities when presented, helping him earn a lucrative deal with a Raiders team counting on him to be a consistent playmaker. Earning this opportunity certainly is a point of pride as he moves on to the next chapter of his career.

“There were definitely times where I got down on myself after certain things happened, but to see how it has all played out … for me, no matter what my role was or what the situation was, I just put my head down and kept working,” Kwiatkoski said. “For that to all payoff is really gratifying. You can only control what you can control, and that’s what I focused on. I never lost sight of my goals. No matter what my role was, I was determined to work like a starter and play each day like it’s my last. For it to work out the way it has, with this new opportunity, it’s really gratifying.”

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

Raiders restructure Rodney Hudson's contract to create 2020 cap space

The Raiders took on a bit more salary in free agency than they were legally allowed, but restructured center Rodney Hudson’s massive contract to get back under the NFL salary cap.

The team’s cap and contracts people got creative with the deal, obtained by ESPN on Wednesday morning, to provide relief in 2020 and push increased cap hits down the road where they have more flexibility.

The Raiders converted $11.6 million of Hudson’s base salary into a signing bonus, freeing up $9.28 in cap space for 2020. His cap hits will go up $2.32 million in subsequent seasons, which includes two voidable years at the end of the deal to spread out his cap hits.

The Silver and Black had to do that now to get Carl Nassib’s deal in while staying under the cap. He’s set to make $25 million over three years, with a $7.75 million cap hit in 2020, per OverTheCap.com.

After factoring in the Nassib deal, the Hudson restructure and some other small additions, OTC reports the Raiders have $5.214 million in cap space. They might have to make another cap adjustment down the road, with $9.408 million required to pay their draft picks as currently slotted. They won’t have to make that move until later in the spring and summer, when they start signing draft picks.

[RELATED: Ranking Raiders' offensive players ahead of 2020 NFL draft]

The Raiders own the Nos. 12 and 19 overall selections, with three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Hudson signed a long-term contract extension last season worth $33.7 million over three years, with $24.4 million guaranteed. Moving money around helps the Raiders stay right with the cap without hurting future standing and keeping all the talent the Raiders currently employ.