Dion Jordan

Dion Jordan 'grateful,' determined to maximize Raiders opportunity

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AP

Dion Jordan 'grateful,' determined to maximize Raiders opportunity

ALAMEDA – Dion Jordan has to work on Thanksgiving. He couldn’t be happier about it.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and immensely talented defensive lineman was hoping for the opportunity while serving a 10-game suspension for taking Adderall, the NFL’s fourth punitive action made against him. This latest ban didn’t accurately reflect the positive strides he's made in his personal life. He’s more than three years clean and sober and devoted to making the choices required to get his career back on track.

That is happening as we speak. Jordan trained insatiably in San Francisco while waiting for his suspension to end and an opportunity to arise. The Raiders gave him one close to his support system, where he has a chance to make a significant impact.

He’s doing that right now, jumping right in as an interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs. He already has a sack – he could’ve had another – and has created quarterback pressure on 17 percent of his pass-rush snaps.

That’s a good start, but it’s secondary to a larger point. Jordan is having a blast, and not taking a single second for granted.

“I love what I’m doing and where I’m at,” Jordan said after Thursday’s practice. “This time of year is football season for players and fans. To be in this locker room and experience it from the inside, to be a part of a team again is so special. I am more than grateful. I am more than thankful. I appreciate this opportunity and the teammates around me who have made this such a positive experience.”

Jordan has made a positive first impression his fellow defensive linemen, who say his size and freak athleticism changes the way they are blocked. He has made a positive impression on Raiders coaches, who can see him sticking around beyond this season.

“He’s a guy that can play the run,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He can rush the passer. He can move inside, outside. The more he learns what we’re doing here, he’s going to be a really big part of our future if he continues on this level.”

Jordan would love to find a more permanent home with the Raiders, but he doesn’t think that far ahead.

“I’m a one-day-at-a-time type of individual,” Jordan said. “Today is what matters. It’s about maximizing every day until Sunday, and then taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Jordan should have more opportunities Sunday in Kansas City, a clash Guenther called a “nickel game.” The Chiefs employ three-plus receiver sets and will throw on any down or distance, making it likely the Raiders sub-package will be on the field a ton. That includes Jordan, who needs to be impactful from the inside or wherever he lines up.

[RELATED: Carr plans to raise the standard for himself, Raiders rebuild]

Jordan admits excitement about that chance and those that come after but understands that it's a focus-on-the-present mentality and daily work habits that got him to this point and will guide him moving forward.

“Every day when I wake up in the morning, I think about what I have to do that day to get where I want to go,” Jordan said. “That’s the path that led me to this point. I get my a-- up and I work and I give the day everything I have. I give full effort in everything. That’s all people can ask for and all I can do. My mindset is this: if you do that day after day after day, good things will happen.”

Five Raiders to watch in Week 12: Why Josh Jacobs so vital vs. Jets

Five Raiders to watch in Week 12: Why Josh Jacobs so vital vs. Jets

The Raiders are in a tough spot. They’re rare road favorites Sunday, expected to beat the New York Jets -- who are more talented than you think -- after flying across the country to play a game when most of you are eating breakfast.

Oh, and there’s a massive, AFC West showdown on the horizon.

So, you know, stay focused and all that. Taking care of business is essential for Jon Gruden’s Silver and Black, but it won’t be a stroll through Central Park in Week 12. They’re going to have to earn this one.

Here are five players essential to beating the Jets and extending their already prolonged winning streak.

RB Josh Jacobs

Jacobs is ever-so-close to reaching 1,000 rushing yards. It seems he couldn't care less. The Alabama product shrugs off his entries in the Raiders record book, focusing more on making proper reads and maximizing yardage on a particular play.

He must do so consistently Sunday to produce against a stingy Jets front ranked No. 1 in run defense. That unit plays well collectively, with no clear weakness to exploit. The Raiders offensive line and fullback Alec Ingold must do their part, but Jacobs’ reads and rushing choices will ultimately determine the run game’s success.

If Jacobs gets going against such stout opposition, the Raiders will notch another win. It’s that simple to say, much harder to do.

DL Dion Jordan

The Oregon alum played just 14 snaps last week, rushing from the interior in obvious passing situations. His length, power and athleticism changed the way the defensive front was blocked, providing opportunities for himself and those around him. He did all that but a few days after being signed and eligible to play after a 10-game NFL suspension.

That’s impressive, and the Raiders will want to expand Jordan's role wherever possible as the season continues.

Jordan will be an X-factor in this game and others, and his pairing with either Maxx Crosby or Clelin Ferrell could free the edge rushers to make big plays. He instantly upgrades the Raiders pass rush and is a player other must account for. On Sunday, Jordan could help create havoc against a ho-hum Jets offensive line that can be exploited from the inside.

TE Darren Waller

Opponents work hard to take Waller out of the game plan. That’s easier said than done. Waller’s size, speed and versatility make him an attractive option the Raiders are determined to include, as we’ve seen with high target counts even when he’s blanketed in coverage. Waller said this week an attacking mindset and proper reads are key to the ball coming his way.

The Jets have been tough on tight ends, but Waller must find a way to stay involved to keep the Raiders offense running strong. He knows that and is taking this challenge head-on. Waller is an elite talent and must steadily produce -- even against stout opposition -- to keep the Raiders on their winning track.

S D.J. Swearinger

The veteran safety led the Raiders in tackles last week against the Cincinnati Bengals just days after signing. He was primarily active on first and second down, with Curtis Riley entering in obvious passing situations. Riley has struggled in those scenarios, and it will be interesting to see if Swearinger becomes a three-down player in this game or down the road.

We know for certain Swearinger can be an impactful run defender and intimidator in the middle. We know how badly he wants to succeed and help the Raiders' playoff push after a month-plus away from football. He has immense talent that must be harnessed and deployed appropriately. The Raiders must keep this defense going strong against quarterback Sam Darnold and rusher Le’Veon Bell, players far more dangerous than their stats suggest.

[RELATED: Mullen showing star potential amid Raiders' playoff push]

WR Hunter Renfrow

Third-and-Renfrow. It’s not just a fun thing say. Quarterback Derek Carr often looks to Renfrow as a chains mover, someone reliable in tense moments. The fifth-round pick has seen more targets in recent weeks, especially when the Raiders are in a bind. He has come through time and again when others are covered, being the safety blanket Carr has longed for from the slot.

He needs to continue his productive run and find soft spots in zones, especially with safety Jamal Adams roaming free and often rushing the passer. That can leave the Jets exposed and vulnerable to quick passes and runs after the catch, both of which are Renfrow’s forte. Steady production from him when other options are shut down or with the Jets focused on the run will be key to the Raiders producing consistently enough to win Sunday.

Why surging Raiders pass rush believes recent success can be sustained

Why surging Raiders pass rush believes recent success can be sustained

The Raiders' pass rush is coming on strong.

Quarterbacks have felt heat in particular during the team’s perfect three-game homestand, with 12 sacks in that span and 10 in the past two contests. That has sent the Raiders soaring up the NFL sack list, now ranked 15th with 25 quarterback takedowns in 10 games.

Part of that is improved talent. Opportunities also are a crucial, oft-forgotten variable in this equation.

“[On Thursday] night against Phillip Rivers, we knew he had to throw it so you’re going to get a chance to rush," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "We knew they were going to throw it in Detroit, and we get a chance to rush. And at the end of the game yesterday we knew they had to throw it, so you get some opportunities to swing the bat. We’ve been better against the run and we’ve given ourselves more third-down opportunities than we did a year ago.

“But with that being said I think that has something to do with it. And we’re much improved. You know we’ve got better rushers and we’re getting better results.”

The 25 sacks through 10 games is nearly double last year’s total, a positive sign to be sure but no barometer of pass-rush success.

Gruden never misses a moment to say sacks aren’t the only way to measure an impactful pass rush. He prefers the factor grade, which remains internal but includes sacks, pressures, forced fumbles, run stops, edge setting and passes defensed, among other things. Here’s what we can quantify.

The Raiders are hands down better rushing the passer over last year. They have more sacks and quarterback hurries than they had all of 2018, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus.

Here’s what the Raiders totaled rushing the passer in 2018: 13 sacks, 36 quarterback hits, 97 individual hurries -- 146 total individual pressures.

The Raiders are going to generate much more pressure this time around if the season continues this way.

2019 project pass-rush stats: 40 sacks, 35 quarterback hits, 190 individual hurries -- 265 total individual pressures

As we’ve already said, 2018’s a bad gauge of competence in this effort. This year’s numbers project to be better than 2017, when the Raiders had Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin leading the charge. They would come in just under 2016, the team’s last playoff season, except in sacks.

2017 stats: 36 sacks, 49 hits, 164 individual hurries -- 249 total individual pressures
2016 stats: 27 sacks, 50 hits, 202 individual hurries -- 279 total individual pressures

The Raiders have surged into the backfield behind Clelin Ferrell’s improvement off the edge, Maxx Crosby’s tenacious energy and Benson Mayowa’s efficient efforts. Ferrell and Crosby are rookies and have made great strides in recent weeks. Maurice Hurst has been solid on the interior, and newcomer Dion Jordan brings athleticism and agility to the interior rush.

“We’re finally finding our groove and starting to rush well as a group,” Hurst said. “That’s more important that you think. We’ve had to switch spots and rotate guys around the line. We’ve lost some guys along the way, but we’ve gotten to a point where we’re comfortable with what we’re doing even with new guys coming in. That speaks volumes to how we have been prepared.

"It’s something we have to keep going if we want to keep winning.”

[RELATED: Raiders DE Crosby named AFC Defensive Player of the Week]

Hurst says part of that is individual improvement, but an underrated portion is the line working well together.

“It’s a timing thing and a communication thing, and that’s something we have really picked up over these past few games,” Hurst said.