Maxx Crosby

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

ALAMEDA – Clelin Ferrell stepped on the scale Thursday morning, looked down at the number below and flashed his signature smile.

The readout was the reason why: 266 pounds.

The Raiders defensive lineman finally was back to his playing weight.

The experience was a lot different after coming back from a week in the United Kingdom dealing with concussion-like symptoms and a stomach flu that made it, shall we say, hard to keep things down.

“When we got back from London, I stepped on a scale and I was 250,” Ferrell said. “I couldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t just the weight. I felt bad and I felt weak.”

Ferrell hasn’t been that light in six years. Getting there wasn’t pretty. Getting back to his playing size and strength took some time, but Ferrell’s return to health was well-timed.

It came accompanied by an on-field epiphany. Or, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther put it, “the light came on.”

“You can just tell with the look in a guys’ eyes,” Guenther said. “You know when he starts making plays, you can start saying, ‘Hey I’m starting to figure this out.’ It’s the look in the guys’ eyes and the way he’s handling himself.”

Something clicked during a Week 9 victory over Detroit, where he had three huge run stops and three quarterback pressures, including one that flustered Matt Stafford on the final play of the Lions' failed comeback attempt.

Guenther approached the No. 4 overall pick after that win and could tell right away that something was different. He was right, and Ferrell knew exactly why.

“Facing the Detroit Lions was the first game where I felt comfortable with everything that I was asked to do,” Ferrell said. “Before, it was like, ‘I’m comfortable with this and this, not so sure about this over here.’

“I have been asked to do a lot of stuff. The whole practice week leading up to it, I felt really good with everything. I felt comfortable and that I could just go out there and play and put my own flavor on it and freestyle a bit. I really understood my responsibilities and I felt really good.”

That wasn’t a one-off. Ferrell built upon that with a breakout game last week against the LA Chargers, totaling 2.5 sacks, two other quarterback pressures, a batted pass and six run stops. Ferrell paced an all-out assault on quarterback Philip Rivers, where the pass rush made a significant impact on a dramatic win.

Ferrell didn’t say much after the game, answering one question before leaving the Raiders' locker room. Many said the Clemson product needed a game like that, especially after absorbing fan criticism for not producing enough, especially relative to his lofty draft slot.

Ferrell doesn’t care much about numbers. He’s concerned with two things: wins and personal impact. He admitted, in that instance, it was nice to have a good game in ways all can understand.

“When you’re chasing stats, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to win,” Ferrell said. “It’s always good to shut people up a little bit. People can get on your nerves. Not that it’s getting to me, but you hate hearing nonsense, especially when they aren’t that informed. I don’t blame people for that. It is what it is, and I’ve been through this before when I was in college. I’ve always had the spotlight on me. It just comes with the game.”

Lights were always bright at Clemson. That comes with the territory as a perennial championship contender.

The same goes for top-five NFL draft picks, so the scrutiny was sky-high even over such an early portion of his career.

But not from inside the Raiders organization.

The Silver and Black were asking Ferrell to do a ton. He stepped right in as a three-down player, asked to play inside far more than he did in college. That was an adjustment, one he insists he’s comfortable with despite a productive athletic career playing off the edge. He has played several techniques to service defensive line needs, doing some dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.

“He does a lot more than just rush the passer,” head coach Jon Gruden said after beating the Chargers. “He made some great plays against the run. It was a signature game for him obviously, but it’s great for him to get some sacks. Maybe some of the people who are counting sacks out there will acknowledge this.”

Ferrell isn’t counting them. He’ll evaluate himself through a different lens.

“The biggest thing for me is wins and losses and whether I feel like I played well,” Ferrell said. “I don’t really care about stats, you know what I mean? Numbers are good but seeing the success I had and the big role I played in two huge wins was really, really good.”

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Continuing this positive trend is the next step, one that renewed health and increased comfort within his role will help achieve.

“He needs to keep it going. Clelin’s coming off his best game,” Guenther said. “I really think the light came on for him in the second half of the Detroit game. Walking off the field with him I was like, ‘I think the light just came on for you. Really.’ And then he went out against the Chargers and played really well, so hopefully he can keep playing at a high level.”

Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

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Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

ALAMEDA – Eastern Michigan’s football program certainly was interested in Maxx Crosby. He had a stack of recruiting letters to prove it.

That didn’t immediately result in a scholarship. It came with an invitation to the Eagles’ annual prospects camp. If Crosby wanted his first and only Division I offer, he had to go earn it.

The Crosbys packed up the car and drove the roughly 1,200 miles from Colleyville, Tex. to Michigan, a well-worn path made annually to visit family. This one, however, had big stakes.

“I knew I had to kill it, and I feel like I did,” Crosby said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “They ended up offering me and my best friend right after the camp. It was crazy, and an awesome experience.”

Crosby got his scholarship. Great. Now he had to do something with it. He parlayed his one shot at D-I football into a professional one with the Raiders, who selected Crosby in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.

“My goal out of high school was to play D-I, and they were the school to offer me,” Crosby said. “I was going no matter what. I wanted that opportunity and took advantage of it. It’s just like this year. I knew whoever took me, it was going to be the right fit. The Raiders believed in me and are letting me play my game. Now it’s up to me to take full advantage.”

Crosby’s getting good at capitalizing on golden opportunities. He got another one in Week 4 when Benson Mayowa was unavailable. Crosby had four quarterback pressures, two big run stops, two batted passes and a forced fumble in a career-high 44 defensive snaps. That’s worth a high factor grade, which Raiders coaches value nearly above everything else.

That led to more and more snaps and now Crosby’s a full-time, three-down player operating well in all aspects of the game.

“He has a relentless playing style that we like and I talk about factor grades more than sacks,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “A lot of people count sacks out there. Sacks, I put them on a reel: ‘Who’d you sack? When did you sack them? And who’d you beat and how’d you beat them?’ Crosby is batting down passes, he’s getting pressures. I know it doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sack ledger, but he’s impacting the game and that’s the big thing we want from all of our defenders.”

All that from a kid expected to be a situational pass rusher this year. He shed knocks from his pre-draft profile, that he was a small-school kid who wasn’t strong enough and needs to improve against the run. He was someone NFL.com expected to be a backup or a special teams player.

“I had production the last two years of college, a lot of it,” Crosby said. “When I came to the NFL, I knew that I could get it done. They break down small pieces of your game before the draft, some that don’t even matter, and I just used that as another chip on my shoulder. I’m very confident in my abilities. I really don’t listen to outside noise. I just do what I do, and it has been working.

“I feel like I’ve always been slept on and overlooked, but that’s just more motivation.”

Crosby is impacting games, like he did in last week’s victory over the LA Chargers. He had just a half sack but led the team with seven pressures and forced two errant throws that became Raiders interceptions.

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Fans love sacks, but Crosby simply is interested in making plays everywhere on the field and capitalizing on every chance to make contributions to a team that believed he could be something special.

“Sacks come in bunches. They will be there if I keep playing hard,” Crosby said. “Personally, I can’t worry about sacks and trying to get them If you’re thinking too much and getting sack happy, you’re going to do things the coaches aren’t going to be happy about. Just do your assignment and go 100 mph. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Benson Mayowa's steady pressure helps raise status of Raiders pass rush

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Benson Mayowa's steady pressure helps raise status of Raiders pass rush

ALAMEDA – Benson Mayowa doesn’t play a ton, roughly 30 percent of Raiders defensive snaps. The veteran has capitalized on opportunities received as a situational pass rusher, getting after the quarterback at a cruelly efficient clip.

Mayowa’s creating pressure on a whopping 11.5 percent of his pass-rush snaps, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus. That ranks third among NFL edge rushers with at least 20 percent of the highest pass-rush snap count, just behind Clay Matthews and Nick Bosa.

He has seven sacks, a quarterback hit and 13 hurries, getting home regularly when given the chance. That sack total’s already are a career-high, with seven games to increase that sum.

“He’s got more sacks than a lot of the great sack artists that’s out there,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I think he’s got seven sacks if that’s what we’re measuring the great ones by. I’m really happy to have the guy. I mean, he’s a guy that not only can rush the passer, but he’s Benny and the Jets I call him. You know, he brings the jets. He really energizes the room. He brings a certain type of energy level to our defensive line that I really enjoy being around. I’m happy for his success. Hopefully, he can continue to get home.”

Mayowa paces a young crop of edge rushers coming into its own. The Raiders had just three ends last week against the L.A. Chargers but still managed to sack Philip Rivers five times. Mayowa and rookies Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby are chiefly in charge of creating quarterback pressure with Arden Key placed on injured reserve last week. Dion Jordan arrived Tuesday as reinforcement, but there’s no telling whether he’ll be ready Sunday against the Bengals. The pass rush still has to show up and continue a solid run that includes 10 sacks in the past three games.

They are, Mayowa believes, commanding respect. 

“They have to account for us now,” Mayowa said. “They can’t just say, ‘Oh, they don’t have a pass rush.’ We can get to the quarterback, so they have to game-plan it. That’s going to take away from other assets in their game. As long as we get to the quarterback, that’s going to help us as a whole.”

So will balanced pass-rush productivity. Mayowa’s numbers have garnered extra attention, getting him chip blocked more often than ever. That means Crosby and Ferrell must re-balance offensive focus and keep getting to the quarterback.

Mayowa is responsible for helping the rookies' progression, though he’s admittedly not much of a talker or a rah-rah guy. He wants to set a proper example for the young guys, who have progressed well due to a variety of factors.

“They are coming along,” Mayowa said. “Everybody wants to write guys out, but you saw the game last week. [Ferrell] did his thing. He just has to stay on the road that he’s on. He has to keep doing what he did. For Maxx, he shows up and shows out. He needs to keep doing his thing. We need them both.”

While Mayowa’s season will be judged on tape over the stat sheet, high sack totals are worth premium dollars. He signed a one-year deal here, and a double-digit sack total certainly could help his bottom line. He isn’t playing for numbers, sack totals or otherwise, but there are personal goals out there to attain. Wins, however, make everything bright.

“It’s good, but you want the Ws,” Mayowa said. "When you do that, it’s going to open up everything. If we get a lead in a game, they’ll have to pass to catch up and we can get after it. It’s a good goal, but that’s all it is.”

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He’s surpassing expectations thus far this year, though Mayowa doesn’t consider 2019 a breakout season.

“I think it’s the opportunity,” Mayowa said. “I’ve been doing it, but the numbers are better. If you’ve been watching I’ve been doing it, though the numbers haven’t always been there.

“It has been a long ride in the NFL, but I have shown flashes. This has been a good year for me. I credit that to the rest of the guys.”