Maxx Crosby broke his hand in the Raiders’ first preseason game, a moment well documented on “Hard Knocks.” He was trying to punch the ball free and ended up hurting himself in the process. He tried in vain to play through it even after saying his hand felt like a noodle and ended up on the shelf for roughly three weeks of the preseason recovering from surgery.
That’s a significant setback for a player who needed every single rep possible to be ready for the regular season. Raiders brass didn’t want to let Crosby’s season slip and echoed a common refrain.
“They told me to stay in it mentally, and really harped on that,” Crosby said Friday in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “That’s what I tried to do. That helped me out a lot, and they really fast-tracked the process of getting me back on the field and working again with a club on. That wasn’t ideal, but I could learn and apply and stay in football shape.”
Crosby didn’t enjoy working with the club, but taking that tool away forced him to hone his footwork, leverage and balance. Getting steady work was most important.
The Raiders, after all, desperately needed him to make an instant impact as a situational pass rusher. They’re finding he’s much more than that.
“I think he’s gotten a lot better in both the run and the pass rush,” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “I think he’s a high-energy guy, he’s getting better every week and he can do a lot of different things for us, so he’s an exciting guy to have.
“[He has made progress] mainly in the running game and the little detailed things, the footwork and hand placement on early downs. Obviously, we knew he could rush bringing him in here, but he’s becoming a complete defensive end each and every week.”
Hold on. That doesn’t match his pre-draft profile, which labeled him as a too-skinny kid from a small school who couldn’t stop the run. Crosby heard all about his perceived shortcomings. He read about them, absorbed the negativity and never let it go.
It became fuel to show he was no one-trick pony. That has happened in small steps since Crosby began his career in the Silver and Black, though he’s rounding into quality form heading into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
“My confidence has definitely increased over time,” Crosby said. “I would say the mental part of the game is way more than 50 percent. That’s everything, and I believe I can beat and compete with anybody. I try to bring it every day and come in with a chip on my shoulder. I came from Eastern Michigan. I only had one [scholarship] offer. Blah, blah, blah. I can’t stop the run and all that stuff. I keep all that in my mind at all times. Every time I step out there, I feel like I have something to prove.”
Crosby always believed that he belongs, and has produced tangible evidence of it over the last two games. Crosby was given a full workload and made the most of it. He wowed in a Week 4 win over Indianapolis, with three tackles, two batted passes, a forced fumble and a quarterback hit among four total pressures.
He followed that up with his first NFL sack against Chicago and three total pressures playing a career-high 55 defensive snaps in his first career start.
Those two efforts showed great progress, considering he had but one pressure in the previous three.
Hearing Guenther compliment his run defense –- he got plenty of opportunities starting while Clelin Ferrell was in concussion protocol versus Chicago -- is a badge of honor and a sign he’s eliminating perceived strikes against him and the unwelcome “situational pass rusher” label.
“That was the biggest knock on me coming into the league,” Crosby said. “I was too skinny and not strong enough. I was a lot smaller last year so I get it, but it was a point of emphasis for me. I always feel like I have been able to make plays against the run, but I think the extra weight and power really helped. There’s a natural instinct to it and an attitude to stopping the run.”
Crosby attributed that to discipline and increased size and strength built during the pre-draft process and after becoming a Raider.
Crosby says he’s over 265 pounds now – he played in the 240s his last year at Eastern Michigan – and believes he can be a productive every-down player. He loves getting sacks but won’t let them determine his worth, finding himself proud of diverse stat lines of the last two weeks.
“That’s the thing about defensive end,” Crosby said. “Everybody focuses on sacks, but I just want to affect the game on every single play. If it’s not a sack, it’s batting a pass or making a technically sound tackle or punching the ball out or even just staying disciplined in my gap. There are several ways I can help my team.”