Raiders hope trio of draft picks can help Mack and Irvin


Raiders hope trio of draft picks can help Mack and Irvin

Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have done good work the past two years. The Raiders edge rushers have combined for 36 sacks over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, with efficient pressure rates.

The Raiders were ineffective reaching the quarterback despite those efforts. Mack and Irvin were the primary providers, without much quarterback hunting help. The Silver and Black had just 19.5 sacks attributed to others, with 13 attributed to those no longer on the team.

While sacks aren’t the only sign of effective quarterback pressure, the numbers above illustrate a greater point: Mack and Irvin need some help.

“It was a priority, yeah,” head coach Jon Gruden said Friday. “It was a major priority.”

That’s why he called in the cavalry.

He and Reggie McKenzie drafted PJ Hall (second round) and Maurice Hurst (fifth round) to bring pressure inside. They selected Arden Key (third round) to bring edge pressure on a rotational basis.

That was expected. Gruden said a few times this offseason the Raiders must upgrade on the defensive interior and that Mack and Irvin especially didn’t need to play so many snaps.

There’s no telling how draft picks will turn out or whether they’ll make an immediate impact, but there’s no doubt these guys are talented.

Hall was a monster at Sam Houston State, dominating FCS competition and compiling monster strength and agility numbers during the pre-draft process. Hurst might be the draft’s best inside pass rusher, a first round talent who fell because of a health concern.

Hurst and Hall guys can play three technique, a pivotal spot in coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense, and help rush the passer in sub packages.

“To get those two guys,” Gruden said, “we felt they were the top two inside rushers in this draft.”

The Raiders hope Key can return to 2016 form, when he was considered a top NFL prospect. He fell to the third round after an all-around subpar 2017 season, but he still possesses great length and size. He’s built like Aldon Smith, an excellent pass rusher at his playing peak.

“Arden Key, that we had ranked very, very high as a pure pass rusher in this draft,” Gruden said. “It’s a commodity that’s hard to find… I like this kid a lot. He checked out with us, and he can bend the edge, I know that.”

This isn’t the first time the Raiders have tried to give Mack (and Irvin) some help. Defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr., a second-rounder in 2015, has been good at times but largely inconsistent when healthy. He remains in the mix.

Jihad Ward (second round) and edge rusher Shilique Calhoun (third round) were taken in the 2016 draft, but haven’t provided much help. Ward was traded to Dallas after the NFL draft, following two ineffective seasons. Calhoun was cut before his second season and spent part of 2017 on the practice squad.

The Raiders hope this volley proves successful. The picks themselves understand the importance of helping top-flight edge rushers.

“Coming on my visit, I knew that they needed help on the interior pass rush, trying to help out the edge rushers that they had,” Hall said. “Having interior pass rush that can help collapse the pocket will actually help them out too, on the edge. We’re just ready to get to work here and do what’s best for the team.”

Gruden isn’t the only one asking new guys for help. Irvin stopped by the Raiders rookie minicamp on Friday to meet with new recruits.

“He was just up there trying to help us out, give us some advice,” Hurst said. “Just telling us that you have to show up and work – that’s exactly what we want to do and we want to be a crucial part of this team and help them win as many games as possible.”

Michigan coach calls star pupil perfect for Raiders, 'a disruptive, attacking force inside'


Michigan coach calls star pupil perfect for Raiders, 'a disruptive, attacking force inside'

The University of Michigan football team is in a quiet period between spring practice and fall camp, but Greg Mattison is hot on the recruiting trail. The University of Michigan’s defensive line coach is crisscrossing the country trying to secure quality Wolverines, without much time for anything else.

Squeezing in an interview request during a brief stretch home in Ann Arbor, Mich., wasn’t easy. Mattison, I was told, would get to it during a free moment over a few days.

The respected defensive coach called within the hour.

“I am pretty busy these days, but after I saw (the interview request), I wanted be sure and talk to you,” Mattison said. “Anything for Mo.”

‘Mo’ is defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Mattison’s star pupil and a Raiders fifth-round pick. The bond is strong between player and position coach. Mattison recruited Hurst out of Xaverian Brothers High in Westwood, Mass., and spent five subsequent years developing him into an NFL-caliber player.

Mattison gave a glowing review of his time working with Hurst during an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, as you’d expect from a college coach talking about a former player.

College coaches don’t publicly criticize their guys. But, if they don’t have anything nice to say, they don’t say anything at all.

Mattison called back in a snap.

“I recruited him and coached him for five years, so I probably know Mo Hurst as well as anybody around,” said Mattison, a longtime college coach who was Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator from 2009-10. “He comes from a tremendous family, and his mother is as good a person as you’ll meet and did a tremendous job raising him. Mo has all the work habits and character you want in a player. He’s one of those guys, where I’ve never seen him do something that wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Mattison has great affection for Hurst, which is why the NFL Draft was so tough to watch. Hurst is a first-round talent, arguably the draft’s best interior pass rusher, yet fell to the fifth due to concerns about an irregular EKG.

The University of Michigan cleared him to play despite a heart condition. The Raiders didn’t have a problem with it either, and drafted Hurst with the No. 140 overall selection. The draft slide was a disappointment for all involved.

“He has a lot of pride,” Mattison said. “You watch the draft and so many times I said, ‘Mo’s way better that the kid they just took.’ You know why it was happening, because of this test or whatever. The thing we all knew was that he was fine. It was the same thing when he came to Michigan. He was fine.”

The Raiders believe he is fine to play in 2018, and will have annual checkups to ensure that remains the case each season. Head coach Jon Gruden wants Hurst to be judged on the field -- he won’t discuss Hurst’s health any farther – and the Wolverine has a real chance to make an immediate impact as a three-technique in Paul Guenther’s defensive system.

“He fits perfectly in a scheme like that,” Mattison said. “The Raiders got the greatest steal in the world. He’s a perfect fit, and to get Mo when they did is quite something. What you always want in that type of defense is a disruptive, attacking force inside. I’ll put Mo up against anybody in his ability to do that.”

Hurst is an excellent pass rusher and solid run defender, perfectly capable of being a three-down standout. A lot of that is due to an explosive first step that’s as fast and impactful as any.

“He’s born with that,” Mattison said. “We certainly tried to improve it, but he has always had that great first step. Him doing that and playing low and strong, that’s what makes him special.”

Mattison also lauded Hurst’s football IQ and his willingness to study offensive tendencies, saying “he was really good identifying things on the field and using them to his advantage.”

Mattison believes the five years spent at Michigan gave him the maturity and toughness to excel at the NFL level. It allowed Hurst to earn his bachelor’s degree and start work on his master’s degree. Seeing Hurst move on after accomplishing so much gives Mattison a great sense of gratification.

“That’s why you coach, and that’s why I left the NFL to come back to college football,” Mattison said. “The pride you take in getting a young man to come to your school and watching him develop is immense. I have two goals with my guys. I want them to get a degree, and to play in the NFL. If they do that, then I’ve done my job and I’m the happiest guy in the world. Mo’s a perfect example of that.”

Raiders lock up first-round draft pick

Raiders lock up first-round draft pick

The NFL rookie wage scale makes signing draft picks much easier. Long gone are days of protracted holdouts, especially among first-round selections. Each pick is paid within a tight range based on his draft slot, leaving little room to haggle.

That’s why there was no shock seeing Kolton Miller put pen to paper on Friday morning, when the No. 15 overall selection signed his rookie deal. The Raiders formally announced the four-year deal, which includes a fifth-year team option included in all deals with first-round picks.

Sports salary site estimates that Miller’s deal will be worth $13.583 million over four years, with an $8.074 million signing bonus and a $2.498 million 2018 salary cap hit.

If the Raiders choose to exercise Miller’s fifth-year option for the 2022 season, his base salary will be based on the average of the No. 3-25 highest salaries at his position.

Miller played both left tackle and right tackle at UCLA, but the Raiders see him as a long-term solution on the blind side. He’s training there during the offseason program – that could change – and working with respected offensive line coach Tom Cable, who had say in his draft selection.

“We think he’s a prototype left tackle,” Raiders head coach Jon Grduen said earlier this month. “He can bend, he’s got the length that you’re looking for and he’s a sharp kid. He’s still young though.”

Miller is a quality athlete at 6-foot-9, 309 pounds, someone who needs seasoning but could prove a quality NFL lineman. The Roseville native was the first of two offensive tackles taken in this draft. Brandon Parker was a third-round selection and could play right tackle right away.

Miller becomes the sixth member of the 2018 Raiders draft class to sign his rookie contract.