Arden Key

Raiders D-line coach Brenston Buckner breaks down young, talented group

Raiders D-line coach Brenston Buckner breaks down young, talented group

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn’t get after the quarterback in 2017. They were dead freaking last with 22 sacks that year, unable to generate heat with a ho-hum group.

They took a huge step up last season, with a respectable, middle-of-the-pack 38 sacks -- with 31.5 coming from defensive lineman.

Credit should be spread around some – Jason Pierre Paul gave the Bucs’ front some swagger – but position coach Brenston Buckner deserves a helping for such a turnaround in his first year with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders are hoping for a similar uptick. They were dead last with 13(!!) sacks in 2018, with only five sacks returning to the defensive front. Yeesh. That’s so bad the criticism bears repeating.

They added three NFL draft picks, including No. 4 overall selection Clelin Ferrell to the mix, and hired Buckner to strengthen a defensive line that might be the team’s greatest weakness and certainly an unproven commodity.

“I don’t consider myself a coach. I consider myself a teacher,” Buckner said on The Raiders Insider Podcast. “I want to teach these guys how to be better players who are more productive on the field. The 13 sacks did not scare me away.

“…There’s a thin between being good and bad in the NFL. These guys are good players, and I want to help them realize how good they can be. I didn’t come here wanting to chase sacks. I’m trying to create great football players who will naturally generate pressure. I’m not a miracle worker. I’m just here to help guys become better football players.”

This defensive line will remain a work in progress beyond this season, as talent is added in future offseasons and experience is gained. Right now, Buckner’s working with four rookies, a first-year player and three second-year guys. Only four defensive linemen on the 90-man roster have at least four years experience, and some might not make it to the fall.

That won’t alter Buckner’s syllabus one bit.

“I can go back to the basics, and that’s what football’s all about,” Buckner said. “It’s not a science. It was created by P.E. majors, for P.E. majors. It’s a simple, fundamental act of going out there and forcibly make a man do something he doesn’t want to do. My job is to give them tools to allow their athletic ability to dominate.”

Buckner discussed several key players on this week’s Raiders Insider Podcast. Here’s what he had to say about some prominent members of the defensive line:

Clelin Ferrell

“He’s a great person off the field. We checked with everybody. Then you turn on the film, and this guy was productive on one of the best teams in college football over a long period of time against great competition. The better the competition was, the better he played. He was a lead dog, out there in the front. I like that about his personality. What I like most of all is that he’s always willing to do extra to make his teammates better.

“He’s not the classic top 5 pick, where it’s all about me, me, me. His mindset is on what he can do to help the team get better. By doing that, he’s always pushing himself to be at his best because it means more to not let his team down that does to reach his (individual) goals.”

Maxx Crosby

“Maxx has the size you love to see in a defensive end, and he also has speed to chase off the end and do a lot of things. Even though he went to a smaller program, he was productive against everyone he played against. He has the body and mindset and the attitude. That’s a big thing for me.

When I turned on the film, you could see his attitude in how he played the game. He hated being blocked. He competed until the end. His ‘strain plays,’ meaning he had to run someone down from behind or chase plays that weren’t coming to him, he busted his tail to get there. Those plays were better than almost anyone in the draft. That’s one thing you can’t coach.

"You can’t coach effort, and that’s something Maxx brought to the table."

Quinton Bell

“One thing he has that 99 percent of the defensive ends don’t have: the man runs a 4.33 (40-yard dash). He has speed. I definitely can’t coach that. He’s a guy who was a blank piece of paper just learning the position, but he has the skills and the want to get better.

"He looked so raw at the beginning of last year, but later on you can tell he knows what he’s doing. He progressively got better and better. When you get those type guys, you know that, three or four years down the road, they’ll be better than what they are now."

Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall

“You had young guys who had to learn on the job last year, which it one of the hardest things to do. You’re learning from your mistakes and trying to keep your head up high while you’re struggling. That’s going to help them in the long run.”

Arden Key

“We joked with him about this today. He arguably missed 13 sacks. When I say missed, it was him and the quarterback and he either missed the tackle or slipped or something. There are ways to help technique-wise. This game isn’t all about brute strength. There are techniques to help you get one more inch closer to the guy, and now instead of just missing or trying to make a one-arm tackle, you can get both arms around and make a play. That’s what Arden is working on.

[RELATED: These second-year players are key to Raiders' 2019 success]

“Arden can be a special guy. Arden was a special guy at LSU. He was a special guy coming out of high school. He has the talent. Now we as coaches have to hone in and he has to hone in (on technique). He has been working hard knowing that he can’t leave anything on the table. He can be a well-rounded football player.

"He’s getting stronger and faster and more technical. He wants to master the technique and disciplines of playing defensive line. That’s what it’s all about.”

Raiders' 2019 success could hinge on these five second-year players

keyusa.jpg
USATSI

Raiders' 2019 success could hinge on these five second-year players

The Raiders need instant impact from their rookie class. Equally important, however, is a significant improvement from last year’s newbies. That crew was thrown into the fire in 2018, especially after a veteran exodus in the season’s second half.

Head coach Jon Gruden has said he needs his second-year pros to make a significant jump in performance in 2019, a common event after players get a full offseason without the pre-draft process deterring from their long-term goals.

“I want to see our second-year players play better,” Gruden said in March. “They got to play a lot last year. Big deal. I want to see them play great this year.”

Here’s a look at five second-year players who must show well to strengthen this team and take some burden off the rookie class:

DE Arden Key

The LSU product only had one sack last year despite significant playing time. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes he could’ve had eight with better finishing.

“I’m going to look back and think, 'I should have had more sacks,'" Key said late last year. “I could have had more, but it’s just a matter of inches at this level and when look back on film I can see where and why I missed them.”

Key doesn’t have great size at 238 pounds, but he has excellent bend and length and agility to get around blockers. He was asked to play most downs after Khalil Mack was traded and Bruce Irvin was cut, despite entering his rookie year expecting to be a situational pass rusher. That might suit his strengths in Year 2, and he could thrive coming in fresh on obvious passing downs. Key has an array of pass-rush moves, but must further hone his skills and finish plays strong.

The Raiders need production from the defensive end spot, where the No. 4 overall pick, Clelin Ferrell, will occupy one spot. Key and run defender Josh Mauro could split time on the other side, though 2019 fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby is a wild card in this equation. It can’t be assumed Crosby will contribute right away, leaving Key to create pressure opposite Ferrell and form a young, formidable pass-rush combo.

LT Kolton Miller

The Raiders were hell-bent on taking a first-round offensive tackle in 2018, and ended up with the UCLA product at No. 15 overall. Miller has athleticism to spare, which was on display at times last season. A balky knee made those times rare. He suffered partial knee ligament tears early in the year, battled through the chronic issue and was consequently overmatched on a regular basis.

Miller allowed 16 sacks last season, several in tight bunches, and had some run-blocking issues. He continued to play – the Raiders didn’t have any other legitimate options – showing great toughness and resolve despite some disappointing results.

Nobody needed this offseason more than Miller, who has regained health and reportedly gained significant lean mass and bulk. That will help him weather a second season and provide stability on the offense’s left flank.

The Raiders have chosen to leave Miller on the left – he has experience on the right, but struggled some there in college – even after adding high-priced signing Trent Brown.

Having Miller on the left and Brown on the right is the preferred alignment, though there are backup plans. The Raiders anticipate a big jump from Miller in 2019, where he can live up to his potential after a difficult rookie year.

DT P.J. Hall

The Sam Houston State product was drafted ahead of position-mate Maurice Hurst, but played second fiddle to him last season. Hall was hurt early in the year and, certainly needed development coming from a small school, but his interior pass rush ability will be required for improved defensive line play in 2019. He could work alongside Hurst on passing downs, to use his power and low center of gravity to break pockets down from the inside.

Hall can be a solid run defender as well. The Raiders didn’t add a defensive tackle this season, so they need better from the guys they have. There’s great optimism surrounding Hurst’s prospects. Having Hall take a step up as well will help a defensive front that has struggled to create pressure from anywhere recently.

P Johnny Townsend

The Raiders used a fifth-round pick to secure Townsend’s services, and got a punter who took some rookie lumps. His 38.3-yard net average ranked 30th last year, and he didn’t show the pinpoint accuracy he was known for at the University of Florida.

Townsend was given the job last year, but he’ll have some competition this year. The Raiders signed experienced punter Drew Kaser but have cut him already in favor of N.C. State rookie A.J. Cole, who will battle for the job this offseason and in training camp.

Townsend could well be a productive NFL punter, but he must show improvement and consistency to keep his gig.

[RELATED: Why Raiders aren't interested in 'Hard Knocks,' despite clear appeal]

LB Jason Cabinda

The Raiders are hoping Vontaze Burfict can resurrect his career reuniting with Paul Guenther in Oakland following an injury-riddled 2018 campaign. He will start if healthy and will run the defense from the middle linebacker spot.

Burfict hasn’t played a full season since 2013 and hasn’t played more than 11 games during that stretch, hindered by injuries and suspensions.

That means Cabinda will likely be called upon to play an important role at some point. He’d better be ready for it, anyway. An undrafted rookie last year who started on the practice squad, Cabinda worked his way into the defensive rotation later in the season.

Development is required, and Cabinda must do so while learning the system from Burfict and prepping for when his time comes.

Antonio Brown trade: Derek Carr, Raiders players react to blockbuster

Antonio Brown trade: Derek Carr, Raiders players react to blockbuster

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock got their man late Saturday night.

Oakland Raiders brass acquired All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers for two draft picks, a source confirmed to NBC Sports California's Scott Bair.

As you can imagine, Brown's new Raiders teammates were pumped up. Most notably, quarterback Derek Carr.

PJ Hall and Arden Key, two Raiders defensive linemen, seem pretty excited that they don't have to go up against Brown anymore.

[RELATED: What AB brings to Raiders]

In case you missed it, this all got started when Brown posted a picture of himself photoshopped into a Raiders uniform.

With the news coming late on a Saturday night, expect more reaction from players to trickle in Sunday morning.