Raiders

Raiders hope to help Arden Key prove he's a first-round talent

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AP

Raiders hope to help Arden Key prove he's a first-round talent

Arden Key’s draft stock took a tumble. The former Louisiana State edge rusher knows why. Off-field troubles, some weight gain and a few injuries hindered his production, leading some to raise red flags about his professional future.

That’s why he was available at No. 87 overall, when the Raiders’ second third-round pick stopped his slide.

“I’m a first-round talent, top five,” Key said last week in a conference call. “I went through some situations that caused me to be a third-round pick. I’ve learned from those things and this is the consequence of me going through what I went through. I’m a better person now than I was prior to it. I’m just happy to be at the right place. I feel the Oakland Raiders is the right place for me.”

Key’s happy to be a Raider for a few reasons. He wants to learn behind two of the best, studying under Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Lamonte Winston also made a good impression. The director of player engagement met with Key during his official pre-draft visit with the Raiders, and set out a life plan should Key become a Raider.

“He is off the chart. We had a long talk,” Key said. “We talked about things outside of football, what I want to do as far as business and career, things of that sort. We wrote a plan out and we stuck with that plan. It was saying I was going to be a Raider. We spoke it into existence, now look where I’m at.”

Key must stay out of trouble and focused on football now. The Raiders offer a fresh start, a clean slate for someone who went through some troubled times at Louisiana State. He was away from the program during the 2017 offseason for publicly undisclosed reasons – Key says he was an open book during NFL interviews – a time when he also had shoulder surgery. He played a bit heavier in 2017, and struggled, relatively speaking, when compared to 2016’s game tape.

Key had 56 tackles, 12 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles in 2016. He had just four sacks an a forced fumble in 2017, looking at times like a different version of himself.

“Two years ago, his tape was unbelievable,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said last week after Key’s selection. “He was a heck of a football player. He gained 25 or 26 pounds – he bulked up. I think he tried to add a different dimension to his game size-wise. Perhaps it backfired, he got hurt and there were issues there. He underachieved his year, but I go back to the film two years ago – the kid is special – and I know the man that’s been training him.

"I’ve got a lot of confidence in (defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther and (defensive line coach) Mike Trgovac. They’ve done this a long time, they’ve developed players like this.”

Key can develop behind Mack and Irvin, without the pressure of being a full-time starter. He should be the rotational reserve the Raiders have missed the past few years, when starters played nearly every snap off the edge.

The Raiders are confident Winston’s department can help him stay on a proper path, giving Key a chance to prove he’s a top talent. There’s some work to do, but the Raiders are ready to dig in.

“He’s not a finished product,” Gruden said. “He’s made some mistakes. He’s had some difficult times in his young life, and I know where he’s been for the last several months, and I know what he’s been through in his career. We’ve done a lot of research on him and he has a lot to prove. We have a lot to prove.

"But at the end of the third round, we feel like it’s a gamble worth taking and this young man has some qualities that are rare. We do think he’s a very good kid so I’m not going to get much more into it than that. I realize we have our skeptics, and rightfully so, but this is a young person that needs some help right now and we’re going to help him.”

Key knows he has much to prove, and is ready to start his next chapter.

“That I’m not the guy that the media portrays me to be,” he said. “The only thing. On the field? Football things? Football is not the question. Everybody knows, talent-wise, if we’re just talking talent, (I’m a) top-five pick, automatic.”

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have high hopes for Brandon Parker. They used a third-round pick thinking the athletic tackle can be a long-term solution on the offensive line.

The North Carolina product wasn’t thinking about the future this spring. Parker was focused on learning a new system, working with new position coach Tom Cable and endearing himself to new teammates.

That last goal isn’t always easy, especially on the offensive line. Rookies are tested and pushed early regardless of position. Offensive linemen want to see you stand up for yourself and protect your own. That is, after all, their primary job description.

Parker did that on the first day of last week’s minicamp, pushed back against defensive lineman Fadol Brown in an exchange that evolved into a post-rep scuffle.

Coaches didn’t love it. It distracted from practice and a two-minute drill. Brown was penalized and ejected from practice for fighting. The offense got some extra yards by penalty and kicking a field goal.

The linemen, however, were pleased to see Parker refusing to back down.

"Brandon stood up for himself,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “That was really cool to see. You always want to see that, you worry about a guy’s toughness. He’s a tough kid. He’s been playing well. He’s really intelligent. Really smart.”

Veterans test newbies. Parker made a good impression there.

“That’s a positive impression you want to leave,” Parker said. “You want to show the veterans that you’re not afraid of anything, and they you’ll go to battle with them like they’ll go to battle with you. It’s more a matter of gaining respect than proving you’re the toughest guy out there.”

Scuffles don’t improve your standing with coaches. Studying hard, executing well and flashing athleticism certainly does, especially before the pads come on. That was Parker’s primary objective during the offseason program.

“I think I presented well,” Parker said. “I do a good job retaining information. I didn’t really have a whole lot of mistakes. The first couple days are a whirlwind and a faster pace, but after I got used to it and got my feet wet and started to show the veterans what I can really do, they kind of warmed up to me. It has been a smooth adjustment ever since.”

Parker has had hiccups along the way, including a mistake early in the offseason program. He expected Cable to come up and correct what went wrong. Somebody different came his way quickly.

“I looked back and Donald Penn was there and was one of the first to address me,” Parker said. “Having his experience and (veteran Breno Giacomini) on the team and around to give us technical pointers is great.”

Parker and first-round offensive tackle Kolton Miller received significant work during the offseason program, and were praised for their intelligence and athleticism. There’s plenty of development remaining, but the rookies seem to be off to a good start.

“They’re smart kids. They listen,” center Rodney Hudson said. “They’re learning and working and asking questions, which I think is always important for young guys. To ask questions about where they can do better, and both of those guys do that.”

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

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AP

Watching Geno Atkins has Maurice Hurst excited to earn role in Guenther's defense

ALAMEDA – Maurice Hurst is familiar with Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme and his role in it. That knowledge didn’t originate from the Raiders offseason program, or sleepless post-draft nights studying the playbook.

Hurst studied it first at the University of Michigan, focusing on one of planet Earth’s best at his position.

“I’ve been watching Geno Atkins since I was in college,” Hurst said Wednesday. “He’s always someone I’ve had my eye on.”

The veteran Cincinnati Bengal is an elite defensive tackle both stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks as a three technique, working a scheme Guenther coordinated the last four seasons. Hurst shares similar size, traits and explosiveness off the ball, making Atkins a proper athletic role model. He's a good one, with 61 sacks and six Pro Bowls to his credit.

Time watching Hurst was extremely well spent. The Raiders drafted Hurst in the fifth round – a health issue torpedoed this first-round talent’s draft stock – and paired him with Guenther, who came to Alameda this offseason to coordinate Jon Gruden’s defense.

The Raiders certainly hope Hurst can be like Geno in time, because a dominant interior pass rusher is vital to Guenther’s scheme.

“(Atkins is) strong and he’s fast,” Hurst said. “Those traits translate well in the NFL. He’s able to be very disruptive and get after the quarterback. The three technique is the penetrator of our defense. You have to have someone like Geno to make the defense go. That’s a major part of Coach Guenther's scheme, and why he brought in me and (second-round defensive tackle) P.J. Hall. We have Mario (Edwards). We have a good group of guys who can do what he expects us to do.”

Hurst has immersed himself in Guenther’s scheme since joining the Silver and Black. The Michigan man prides himself on scheme study and proper application in practice, but his head start may have helped. Having an inside man didn’t hurt. Fellow Wolverines defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow was drafted by Cincinnati last season and watched film with Hurst during the offseason.

“I had a pretty good idea of what the defense was like and what coach was expecting,” Hurst said, “from watching film with Ryan and talking to him on FaceTime.”

Hurst likes Guenther’s scheme, and his possible role playing three technique – lining up off the guard’s outside shoulder – for the Raiders.

“It definitely gets me amped up,” Hurst said. “The Bengals, their best player was their three technique. That’s the focal point of their defense, and that’s what Coach Guenther is used to getting, and what he has got his whole time in the NFL (with Atkins). He drafted Geno, and it says something for him drafting me and P.J. I think he expects a lot from us and expects us to fill that role he had with the Bengals.”

Hurst and Hall join Edwards as interior linemen with pass-rush ability. It’s unfair to heap expectations on a rookie and the Raiders won’t, but there’s optimism Hurst will make an instant impact.

He can’t make one right now – he hasn’t put pads on as a Raider – but believes he made a solid first impression during the now concluded offseason program.

“I handle those situations pretty well,” Hurst said. “I try to keep my knowledge of the game up, and I’m always on top of my plays. I’m making sure I always stay true to myself and stay true to the game by working hard and putting in a lot of effort. That’s what can set you apart, being reliable.”