Maurice Hurst

Adding to Raiders' D-line will help Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall and Arden Key

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USATSI

Adding to Raiders' D-line will help Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall and Arden Key

MOBILE, Ala. – Paul Guenther doesn’t like playing rookies extensively on defense at any position. Last year, the Raiders defensive coordinator had three on the defensive line alone.

Defensive end Arden Key and tackle Maurice Hurst were fixtures. P.J. Hall also played a ton.

They were heavily involved but didn’t produce steadily because, in all honesty, they had water overhead.

Key had once sack. Hurst was strong, but wore down as the season wore on. Hall got hurt early and never rolling even with a lighter load.

Guenther expects that trio to grow and thrive starting next year, after a full offseason’s training and prep. He readily admits, however, that those kids need help.

“If we can supplement those guys, we’ll be in good shape,” Guenther said Wednesday from the Senior Bowl. “When we drafted them, we didn’t anticipate them being our bell cows right off the bat.

“First and foremost, they got a lot of experience in their first year. I haven’t started many rookies in my career, let alone rookie defensive linemen for that long a stretch. If we can bring in guys who are different, and mix it up a bit on the D-line, last year’s draft picks will get better from Year 1 to Year 2.”

The Raiders have four picks in the top 35, including the fourth overall selection. Many project an early run on defensive line, starting with Nick Bosa as the presumptive top pick.

It’s also a deep group up front. There isn’t anyone here worthy of the No. 4 overall pick, but there’s plenty of quality he’s working with here at the Senior Bowl who could help him generate pressure.

Guenther is keeping a close eye on the edge rushers on the North and South squad. The Raiders are running the North, a group lead by Texas’ Charles Omenihu, TCU’s L.J. Collier, Oregon’s Jalen Jelks and Boston College’s Zach Allen.

The best pass rushers might be on the South, being trained by the 49ers, lead by Lousiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson and Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat.

“We have some guys on our end who are moving well on the line, and there are some intriguing guys on the other team as well,” Guenther said. “There are four or five guys we’re really excited about here, guys who should be taken in the top half of the NFL draft.”

Ranking the Raiders' top five needs heading into free agency, NFL Draft

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AP

Ranking the Raiders' top five needs heading into free agency, NFL Draft

The Raiders season stunk. It was a throw away, in essence, used to acquire the NFL draft picks and salary cap flexibility to remake the roster as Jon Gruden sees fit.

Now is that time. The Raiders have roughly $78 million in cap space and 10 NFL draft picks, including four in the top 35 selections.

The Raiders are armed well to reload in a pivotal offseason where we could and should see significant roster turnover. Let’s rank the Raiders’ top five needs heading toward the 2019 season:

[RELATED: Mayock believes he, Gruden agree on how to build Raiders]

1. Edge rusher

The Raiders didn’t generate much pressure on the quarterback, especially from the flanks. Arden Key and Frostee Rucker were miscast as three-down players, forced into some roles that played away from their strengths.

They were forced into steady snaps after Khalil Mack got traded and a frustrated Bruce Irvin got cut, eliminating established threats off the edge.

The Raiders have to start over atop the depth chart. They could use more than one new impact edge rusher, with Key returning as the situational pass rusher he was expected to be as a rookie.

There’s enough salary cap space to sign someone in a loaded free-agent class that gets away from his team – several, including Jadeveon Clowney and Frank Clark, should re-sign with their current clubs – who can get a raise to lead the defense and provide some heat. Then the Raiders should still use their No. 4 overall pick on another edge rusher.

That could remake the defensive front, with Key in reserve and 2018 draftees Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall helping rush from the inside.

2. Receiver

Jordy Nelson is coming back in 2019. The Raiders should build a whole new position group around him. Nelson is a solid leader and a smart pass catcher who can still produce, but he doesn’t have the wheels to scare opponents anymore.

Seth Roberts is likely gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended again and Brandon LaFell won’t be back after suffering an Achilles tear. Marcell Ateman will remain, but needs more time to develop in a much smaller role.

The free-agent class is thin outside Golden Tate and a few others, but a free agent could still help the group and add experience. The Raiders should use a first-round pick on a receiver, and maybe another selection later in the draft to remake the group. Derek Carr needs dynamic threats, and didn’t have many after Amari Cooper was traded to Dallas near midseason.

3. Middle linebacker

The Raiders started the 2018 season with Marquel Lee in the middle spot, but moved him to the strong side as the year progressed. Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow platooned at that spot after the Lee switch and were serviceable young players, but a new and dynamic presence is needed on the inside next to returning weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead.

The Raiders haven’t devoted significant resources to this, but now might be the time to do so. A veteran makes the most sense, which would allow Cabinda and Morrow to continue developing underneath a more established player.

That guy must cover well if playing all three downs is required. Philadelphia’s Jordan Hicks seems like an affordable fit there.

4. Safety

Karl Joseph sure looked like the answer at strong safety and should be expected back next season, but his running mate is up in the air. Marcus Gilchrist was just okay as a one-year rental and Reggie Nelson won’t return, leaving the Raiders lacking at the free safety spot. Erik Harris had some good moments there, but could be a strong No. 3 who can play extensive snaps in a pinch.

There are plenty of good free agents and a few early-to-mid-round draft picks who could be the ballhawk an otherwise strong secondary could use roaming in the back.

5. Running back

Marshawn Lynch proved to be as physical and aggressive as ever early in the 2018 season, before a groin pull ended it after six weeks. Lynch’s contract expired and there’s no telling what he’ll do in 2019, though it sure seems unlikely he would come back unless the Raiders played within the Oakland city limits.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly discussing San Diego as 2019 home]

Doug Martin finished strong after Lynch got hurt, but he’ll be 30 next season and there could be some questions about whether he could stand up to a full season as a feature back. Jalen Richard is expected back in restricted free agency and Chris Warren III will be ready to go after a rookie year spent on IR.

The Raiders could and probably should look for a young runner in the draft who can compete for or grow into a large role on first and second down. There’s always a possibility Le’Veon Bell could end up with the Raiders, but it seems are more likely they'll add versatile depth to the position group.

Raiders-Chiefs injury report: Gareon Conley, Maurice Hurst questionable

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AP

Raiders-Chiefs injury report: Gareon Conley, Maurice Hurst questionable

ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley was a limited participant in practice last week, but wasn’t able to clear the concussion protocol in time to play the Denver Broncos on Monday night.

He worked every session this week, but did everything Friday. That’s a positive sign, though he’s still considered questionable to play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Conley isn’t all the way through the protocol.

“He has one more step, but today was a good sign,” coach Jon Gruden said Friday. “But I can’t comment any further than that.”

The odds of Conley playing are better, but not set. The same can be said for defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who has battled an ankle injury all month. He has missed two of the past three games, though he’s trying to return for the season finale.

He has been missed on the inside, both as a pass rusher and run defender. Getting him back would help slow Kansas City’s interior runs, and improve a lackluster Raiders pass rush that has applied more pressure lately.

[RELATED: Raiders should add dynamic, ballhawk safety in free agency or NFL draft]

The Raiders also won’t have defensive back Montrel Meander available, though he hasn’t been active since being signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad.

Here’s the full injury report for the Raiders and Chiefs ahead of Week 17:

Raiders Injury Report

Out
DB Montrel Meander (quadriceps)

Questionable
DT Maurice Hurst (ankle)
CB Gareon Conley (concussion)

[RELATED: Raiders rookie Arden Key gaining more experience than expected]

Chiefs Injury Report

Out
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

Questionable
S Eric Berry (heel)
CB Kendall Fuller (thumb)
RB Spencer Ware (hamstring)
RB Darrel Williams (hamstring)