Raiders' Maxx Crosby becoming everything Jon Gruden thought he'd be

Raiders' Maxx Crosby becoming everything Jon Gruden thought he'd be

ALAMEDA -- It's not often a team gets immediate impact from a fourth-round draft pick, especially a defensive end from a MAC school. 

When coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders selected Maxx Crosby out of Eastern Michigan, most experts assumed the 6-foot-5, 256-pound defensive end would be a back-end depth player or special teams contributor in the NFL. Perhaps he could be a situational pass rusher at best in Year 1 in silver and black. He needed to get stronger, quicker and develop better technique. 

So much for that. 

Ever since starting to get more playing time in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts, Crosby has been a key member of the Raiders' front line. His steady improvement, along with that of fellow rookie Clelin Ferrell, has helped the Raiders defense elevate its play despite the rash of injuries they've endured. 

In the Raiders' Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Crosby had his best game to date. He terrorized Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley all day long, totaling five tackles, four sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in Oakland's 17-10 win at the Coliseum. Crosby was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort. 

"It's just a start," Crosby said Wednesday of the award. "It's awesome to get the awards and all that stuff, but we're in the mix of trying to make the playoffs. So that's what's most important now, so we're just going to stay focused."

His stellar play hasn't been a surprise to Gruden. He raved about Crosby's energy and relentless from almost the moment he arrived. The skepticism of the fourth-round pick's ability to be an immediate contributor remained, but it's gone now. 

"We pretty much saw it in training camp," Gruden said of Crosby's ability. "We'd go back to the hotel at night and watch the training camp tape. He was going up against Kolton Miller and Trent Brown every day and he struggled at times, but he never backed down, had some really great second effort plays and he's developed rush. We saw it from the very beginning. Happy for his award and happy for his success. Hopefully, that continues." 

The uptick in Crosby and Ferrell's production has coincided with the Raiders' three-game win streak in which they knocked off the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers and Bengals at home to surge into playoff contention. The Raiders are plus-five in turnover differential in those three games, forcing seven takeaways over that span. 

That starts up front with Crosby and the pass rush, as their pressure is key in forcing opposing quarterbacks into rushing throws and making mistakes the Raiders' opportunistic secondary can take advantage of. 

"We have a lot of guys back there that can make plays," Crosby said of the Raiders' secondary. "It comes down to us making the quarterback get rid of the ball. So that's what we've been doing. We just got to keep improving, keep learning -- you know we have new guys like Dion Jordan who had a great first game. 

"We just got to keep it rolling. Yeah, I'm excited." 

[RELATED: Gruden enjoying Jacobs' success after Mack trade criticism

If the 6-4 Raiders are to make the playoffs or perhaps steal the AFC West from the Chiefs, the pass rush will have to maintain the form it has shown since the Silver and Black returned home from its five-game road odyssey. Crosby will be a key to that. As will Ferrell, Jordan and Benson Mayowa. 

Putting your faith in a rookie fourth-round pick might raise some eyebrows, but Crosby has rewarded the Raiders' faith in him so far this season. 

"Mad Maxx" has been exactly what Gruden thought he would be. 

Cam Newton's Patriots base salary half of Raiders' Nathan Peterman

Cam Newton's Patriots base salary half of Raiders' Nathan Peterman

The past few years haven't worked out ideally for Cam Newton. After numerous injuries, the 2015 NFL MVP was waived by the Carolina Panthers after the team couldn't find a trade partner in March, and Newton remained a free agent until the New England Patriots signed the quarterback on July 8.

But Newton's base salary isn't exactly indicative of a former MVP. In fact, as ESPN's The Undefeated pointed out Monday, the 31-year-old's base salary for 2020 ($1.05 million) is half of what the Raiders will be paying third-string quarterback Nathan Peterman ($2.13 million).

Newton's deal with New England reportedly is heavily incentive-based, and his $1.05 million salary could grow significantly depending on his playing time. The Patriots clearly wanted Newton to prove he's healthy and still can play at a QB1 level in the NFL.

Peterman has drawn rave reviews from Raiders coach Jon Gruden, even though he's never played a down for the Silver and Black. He joined the Raiders' practice squad in Dec. 2018, and has been with the organization since.

The quarterback signed an original round tender with the Raiders in April, as he was a restricted free agent.

[RELATED: Raiders hire former NFL All-Pro Randall Cunningham as team chaplain]

The signal-caller explained why he's become so fond of the franchise back in Aug. 2019.

“Absolutely,” Peterman said. “Being here and being around the quarterback room, especially [Mike Glennon and Derek Carr] every day, with the amount of knowledge they have, has really helped me. That has been tremendous. [Offensive coordinator Greg Olson, senior offensive assistant Johnny Morton] and Coach Gruden have, too. This experience has been helpful for me, and helpful for my career.”

His battles with Mike Glennon for the backup quarterback job became a national story in 2019 during the Raiders' run on "Hard Knocks." Gruden ultimately chose to keep both QBs on the roster last season, but Glennon opted to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The Raiders did bring in former Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota in free agency, so Peterman once again will be resigned to a third-string role in 2020.

So for now, Newton and Peterman's game checks will be surprisingly different. But if Newton wins the starting job in New England as many assume he will, he'll end up making a lot more than 1.05 million for the Patriots this season.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Behind-the-scenes of Greg Papa's lost Barret Robbins prison interview

Behind-the-scenes of Greg Papa's lost Barret Robbins prison interview

Former Raiders center Barret Robbins knew a documentary film crew from the Bay Area traveled to Florida to see him in prison on Nov. 30, 2011 to discuss the events surrounding his disappearance just two days before Super Bowl XXXVII.

He had no idea Greg Papa was conducting the interview.

“He didn’t know I was going to be there,” Papa said. “When he saw me, he was so surprised and happy. We hugged.”

Robbins knew the longtime Raiders radio voice well from his playing days, and the surprise reunion proved a welcome ice breaker before starting a two-day interview that would be the centerpiece of a long-form documentary on Robbins by the regional sports network now known as NBC Sports Bay Area nearly 10 years after his infamous Super Bowl disappearance, including his life before and after the event.

The feature was ultimately called off and the interview shelved but dusted off for use in NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” long-form podcast series in an episode that debuted July 9.

Robbins had done these Super Bowl XXXVII interviews before, several times in fact. This one, however, was probing and at times tough. Papa was diving deep and, after an hour or so, the tension rose an octave.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

It was accentuated by the environment, a small room not much bigger than an actual prison cell, with three cameras on tripods and lots of lights. Papa, producer Matt Abrams and videographer Steve Uhalde were packed in a room with Robbins and a prison guard.

Robbins started to bristle at some topics and the mood started to shift in these tight quarters.

“You could tell from his body language and his demeanor that he was done answering these types of questions, because they were getting really personal and we were starting to re-question some of his decisions,” Uhalde said. “It wasn’t just his side of the story. We were actively questioning why he did things. You could see he was done with it, and I remembered a point where his mood kind of changed, and I thought they were going to shut the interview down. I looked over the guard was actually sleeping in the chair.”

Papa, the crew and Robbins agreed to shut it down for the day.

“It was a weird moment where you could tell he was done with us,” Uhalde said. “It got to the point where I wasn’t sure he was going to show up for Day 2. He seemed that upset after Day 1.”

Guards at Dade Correctional Institute led the NBC crew back and forth through the prison yard and into the general population, giving them a first-hand look at how Robbins and others were living during a time where he was serving time for a drug probation violation.

While they left the first interview session wondering if there would be a second, Robbins showed up ready for another round.

“He showed up and apologized for his mood the previous day,” Uhalde said. “He acknowledged that he wasn’t ready for the line of questioning but, given the night to reassess and get ready for tough questions, he was great. Over the course of the two days, he was not shy about answering any question honestly, including some about steroids use and why he used cocaine to his marijuana use and his life after football, which hadn’t gone how anybody would want it to.”

Robbins has had several run-ins with the law, both before and after his NFL career ended. His mental health issues and struggles with bipolar disorder have been a factor in all of that, including some dramatic moments that put him in a terrible light.

He was open and honest about them all.

“He was so articulate and willing to open up,” Papa said. “I remember leaving there and calling everybody that I knew, saying that this was the most fascinating experience of my professional life.”

Uhalde hadn’t thought much about the interview after taping until it was unearthed for “Sports Uncovered,” when we went back through the sessions from every camera angle. Memories of those days came flooding back.

“I’ve never seen the bad side of Barret,” Uhalde said. “I’ve only seen the up-close, in-person interview we had, and I left that day thinking he was a good guy who obviously made some mistakes ... He’s a guy you still kind of root for and hope that he would do the things necessary to get his life back in order. Re-watching it reminded me of all those things. It solidified that opinion of him.

"If this is a good version of Barret, he’s a nice guy who answered a lot of tough questions that even a normal person like me would be very annoyed to have to answer. Retracing some of the worst moments of your life would be tough for anyone, and he handled it as well as anyone I’ve been around facing that line of questioning.”

While most know Robbins from one sensational Super Bowl story, Papa hopes the podcast and the interview, now available in a condensed version on YouTube, show Robbins in three full dimensions.

[RELATED: Raiders' party culture was Robbins' downfall]

“People are going to think about Barret Robbins and snicker and laugh and think, ‘We know what happened to him.’ ” Papa said. “There are reasons why people get driving to this extreme. There are extenuating circumstances, and Barret Robbins had a life worth living. He lived a great life in many respects. It could’ve been much greater had people embraced mental health on the professional sports side of it.

“I think that guy, in his own way, was crying out for help. He didn’t get the help he deserved, that he needed. I don’t want people to remember Barret Robbins that way. I don’t want that, but I can’t prevent it. By doing this podcast, telling his story, people will hopefully get to know the Barret Robbins that I got to know.”