MOBILE, Ala. – Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther interviewed several candidates to be his next line coach. He wanted a shakeup along the front, which was dead last in quarterback pressures and heavily involved in the No. 30-ranked run defense.
Enter Brenston Buckner, the top choice among quality options. The 47-year old has a solid resume, a clear passion for coaching and energy to spare, making it easy to mesh with a young position group that will stay that way after additions through the NFL draft.
He’ll take over for Mike Trgovac, a respected coach Jon Gruden wants to move into an advisory role.
Buckner’s excited about an opportunity to teach and mold and develop. He’ll start by getting back to basics.
“With a young group, they have to understand that it’s not all about bells and whistles and flash,” Buckner told NBC Sports Bay Area after Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practice. “It’s about effort and engaging in physical violence, wanting to punch someone harder than he wants to punch me. Do you want to do the small things that allow the big things to fall in place? Everything else will be better if I can help them improve on the fundamentals.”
Buckner sees talent in 2018 draft picks Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, and Arden Key, and will expect more from them in 2019. Those guys were thrown to the wolves last season, asked to play far more than expected after Khalil Mack got traded, Bruce Irvin got cut and Justin Ellis ended up on injured reserve after the season opener.
The Raiders had just 13 sacks last season, a cellar-dwelling sum 17 less than the next team up. A total of 11 players met or exceeded that total as individuals, showing just how tough things got up front.
Improving that production is mandatory, and daunting task Buckner was ready and willing to assume. He has helped generate pressure in Arizona and Tampa Bay but jumped at the chance to join the Raiders this offseason.
“I’m a 70's kid, and back then the Silver and Black really meant something,” Buckner said. “They were synonymous with greatness, with physical toughness. That was enticing, as was the chance to work with Jon Gruden. He has had great success in this league, and talking to him in these interviews made it clear he has a vision for taking the Raiders back to where they used to be.”
Buckner needs the talent to accomplish that mission. Last year’s draft picks have some. The Raiders need more, especially off the edge.
Buckner knows that and is keeping a keen eye on defensive lineman here at the Senior Bowl, where the Raiders are coaching the North squad. The new guy will have a loud voice in evaluating guys up front, relaying information to Gruden, Guenther and the scouts about how they function leading up to Saturday’s annual college all-star game.
“The good thing about (coaching the Senior Bowl) is being so hands-on with the guys,” Buckner said. “If a player does something out here I can envision him doing in silver and black, an alarm goes off in my head. All these guys have a chance to play in the NFL. I want to see if they have the qualifications to play for the Raiders.”
There aren’t any players at the Senior Bowl worthy of the Raiders’ top pick. They could take some of those guys later in the draft, but No. 4 overall selection will be used on elite college talent, and those guys typically skip games like this.
Buckner will be pulling for Gruden to take a defensive lineman high, and then add to his ranks again later in the draft.
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“I’m going to pitch for every single draft pick to be a defensive lineman. I’m selfish like that,” Buckner said with a laugh. “Seriously though, this is a great draft and I’ll be happy with whomever we get. If we get a defensive lineman, you’ll hear my voice. I’ll be excited.”