Raiders' Clemson-heavy draft class shows their 'championship mindset'

Raiders' Clemson-heavy draft class shows their 'championship mindset'

The Raiders coaching staff ran Sunday’s final rookie minicamp practice in the unmistakable, all-too-bright orange of Clemson University. The signature paw print was everywhere in Alameda as homage to the three Tigers taken in the Raiders' nine-player NFL draft class this year, the largest total from a single school in franchise history.

“We will have a staff photo wearing Clemson shirts and Raiders hats, so it will be a new tradition that we do every year (honoring the school with the most alums in the rookie class),” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Friday, prior to Clemson day. “I’ve got this to say about Clemson -- you have to watch all their tape, because they are the best team in college football and they got a lot of good players at every position, and some of the underclassmen will keep us wearing that orange color next year I hope because they are loaded.”

That’s a lot from one school, a match foreshadowed some before the NFL draft’s first round. Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney participated in a NFL-draft version of Plinko during the first-round festivities in Nashville, and his chip landed on the Raiders.

The Raiders drafted defensive end Clelin Ferrell shortly after at No. 4 overall. Then they took cornerback Trayvon Mullen in the second round and traded up to get receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth.

The Clemson guys enjoyed the orange nod, and had some fun with it in the press.

“Just to be honest, he didn’t put in the work that we put in at Clemson to wear that stuff,” Ferrell said with a laugh. “I’m just playing. I mean, I guess that’s kind of the joke around here. We just added a bunch of Clemson guys and [defensive line] Coach [Brentson] Buckner was a Clemson guy. I mean, I wouldn’t doubt it. I wouldn’t be mad if I see some more around here, that’s for sure.”

There was plenty of orange in Alameda, as you can see below.

The Tigers had six players drafted this year, with tons of talent coming in future seasons. Having three former teammates together again in Alameda eases the transition to the pros.

“Being with two guys that I’m familiar and comfortable with, having relationships with them already,” Mullen said. “I still have to build relationships with other guys on the team, but just having two guys I can kind of hang around, just stay close with and then branch off with other guys, that was a big deal.”

The Raiders made a point to select players with talent, clean backgrounds and full health this season, the first NFL draft influenced by general manager Mike Mayock.

They also added several from top programs, including Alabama alums in first-round running back Josh Jacobs and undrafted guard Lester Cotton Sr.

“Championship mindset is what we are after here,” Gruden said. “We are interested in guys that have won certainly. We are also more interested in winners. I got a real good feeling about all these players. They have a winning culture that they have grown up with.

"They have a competitive spirit that I admire, and to come from Clemson, or come from Alabama, or come from a championship program, at least they know what it’s like to be on top and how hard it is to get there.”

[RELATED: How Clelin Ferrell plans to earn respect]

Players had fun with the Clemson gear, though Jacobs voiced some light discontent seeing colors from the team Alabama has played in the national title game three of the last four years.

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

ALAMEDA – Clelin Ferrell stepped on the scale Thursday morning, looked down at the number below and flashed his signature smile.

The readout was the reason why: 266 pounds.

The Raiders defensive lineman finally was back to his playing weight.

The experience was a lot different after coming back from a week in the United Kingdom dealing with concussion-like symptoms and a stomach flu that made it, shall we say, hard to keep things down.

“When we got back from London, I stepped on a scale and I was 250,” Ferrell said. “I couldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t just the weight. I felt bad and I felt weak.”

Ferrell hasn’t been that light in six years. Getting there wasn’t pretty. Getting back to his playing size and strength took some time, but Ferrell’s return to health was well-timed.

It came accompanied by an on-field epiphany. Or, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther put it, “the light came on.”

“You can just tell with the look in a guys’ eyes,” Guenther said. “You know when he starts making plays, you can start saying, ‘Hey I’m starting to figure this out.’ It’s the look in the guys’ eyes and the way he’s handling himself.”

Something clicked during a Week 9 victory over Detroit, where he had three huge run stops and three quarterback pressures, including one that flustered Matt Stafford on the final play of the Lions' failed comeback attempt.

Guenther approached the No. 4 overall pick after that win and could tell right away that something was different. He was right, and Ferrell knew exactly why.

“Facing the Detroit Lions was the first game where I felt comfortable with everything that I was asked to do,” Ferrell said. “Before, it was like, ‘I’m comfortable with this and this, not so sure about this over here.’

“I have been asked to do a lot of stuff. The whole practice week leading up to it, I felt really good with everything. I felt comfortable and that I could just go out there and play and put my own flavor on it and freestyle a bit. I really understood my responsibilities and I felt really good.”

That wasn’t a one-off. Ferrell built upon that with a breakout game last week against the LA Chargers, totaling 2.5 sacks, two other quarterback pressures, a batted pass and six run stops. Ferrell paced an all-out assault on quarterback Philip Rivers, where the pass rush made a significant impact on a dramatic win.

Ferrell didn’t say much after the game, answering one question before leaving the Raiders' locker room. Many said the Clemson product needed a game like that, especially after absorbing fan criticism for not producing enough, especially relative to his lofty draft slot.

Ferrell doesn’t care much about numbers. He’s concerned with two things: wins and personal impact. He admitted, in that instance, it was nice to have a good game in ways all can understand.

“When you’re chasing stats, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to win,” Ferrell said. “It’s always good to shut people up a little bit. People can get on your nerves. Not that it’s getting to me, but you hate hearing nonsense, especially when they aren’t that informed. I don’t blame people for that. It is what it is, and I’ve been through this before when I was in college. I’ve always had the spotlight on me. It just comes with the game.”

Lights were always bright at Clemson. That comes with the territory as a perennial championship contender.

The same goes for top-five NFL draft picks, so the scrutiny was sky-high even over such an early portion of his career.

But not from inside the Raiders organization.

The Silver and Black were asking Ferrell to do a ton. He stepped right in as a three-down player, asked to play inside far more than he did in college. That was an adjustment, one he insists he’s comfortable with despite a productive athletic career playing off the edge. He has played several techniques to service defensive line needs, doing some dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.

“He does a lot more than just rush the passer,” head coach Jon Gruden said after beating the Chargers. “He made some great plays against the run. It was a signature game for him obviously, but it’s great for him to get some sacks. Maybe some of the people who are counting sacks out there will acknowledge this.”

Ferrell isn’t counting them. He’ll evaluate himself through a different lens.

“The biggest thing for me is wins and losses and whether I feel like I played well,” Ferrell said. “I don’t really care about stats, you know what I mean? Numbers are good but seeing the success I had and the big role I played in two huge wins was really, really good.”

[RELATED: Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Jordan, Swearinger]

Continuing this positive trend is the next step, one that renewed health and increased comfort within his role will help achieve.

“He needs to keep it going. Clelin’s coming off his best game,” Guenther said. “I really think the light came on for him in the second half of the Detroit game. Walking off the field with him I was like, ‘I think the light just came on for you. Really.’ And then he went out against the Chargers and played really well, so hopefully he can keep playing at a high level.”

Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Dion Jordan, D.J. Swearinger


Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Dion Jordan, D.J. Swearinger

ALAMEDA -- Dion Jordan hasn’t been a Raider long. He signed with the team on Friday and formally joined the team on Tuesday after his NFL-imposed suspension ended, leaving some question whether he’d be ready to play right away.

That answer’s already becoming clear. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said the defensive lineman should don silver and black soon.

“Absolutely,” Guenther said. “I think there’s a very good chance he makes his Raiders debut.”

Jordan isn’t the only new guy ready to make a contribution. Safety D.J. Swearinger should step right in, possibly playing a significant role in this Bengals game with Karl Joseph now on injured reserve.

“I do [expect Swearinger to play],” Guenther said. “It’s all hands on deck this week with the guys we got.”

Swearinger seemed to have better odds of making an instant impact. He came in on Friday and his transition has been smooth after playing in a similar defense while with Arizona earlier this year.

“You know, coming from Arizona, Vance Joseph is the defensive coordinator there,” Guenther said. “He was my secondary coach when I was in Cincinnati, so he’s used to kind of the same terminology. When we got him here I was like, ‘hey this is this coverage, this is that coverage,’ and he shook his head, ‘yeah I got it.’ So that was helpful. And he’s a smart guy to begin with so he’s picked it up really good.”

Jordan had to show well in Thursday’s practice, a higher-tempo workout with one-on-one pass-rush drills. Jordan is in fantastic shape but hasn’t played all season while serving a 10-game ban for using Adderall. The Raiders really need Jordon to fortify a thin defensive end group worked hard during the past few games. 

[RELATED: Jordan ready to work, realize full potential with Raiders]

Jordan will bring some fresh legs, even if he’s only available on obvious passing downs.

“He’s big and long. He’s getting into football shape, and has really helped us out,” Guenther said. “He’s picking up the playbook quick, so he was in working with the first team at some points today.”