The adjective that seems to follow Denico Autry around is "rugged."
Head Coach Jack Del Rio said earlier this week that the versatile linemen was "always rugged," and Defensive Line Coach Jethro Franklin used the same verbiage to describe him as well.
But what does that really mean? What truly makes a defensive linemen "rugged?"
"It's kind of one of those guys that just brings their lunch pail to work every day; don't ask any questions, whatever you need to get done, it gets done," said defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. "He [Autry] is rugged in the sense that he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty; double team, triple team, wherever the play is executed for someone else or whatever, hey, he's out there doing it.
"A guy who understands how to strain, is not afraid to strain, that understands how to knock people back, how to be tough when it's time to be tough, how to just have that dogged attitude that you refuse to be denied, and just have that mentality that it doesn't matter what you do, or what you put in front of me, I'm going to defeat you," added Franklin. "That's that rugged we describe."
And Autry was certainly that and more last Sunday, putting together one of the best games of his professional career in the Raiders 21-14 win over the Denver Broncos.
When all was said and done, Autry had tallied two sacks – the first multi-sack performance of his career – three tackles, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits, but it was his first sack, where he threw Broncos guard Ron Leary aside with one arm en route to taking down Paxton Lynch that served as his highlight of the day.
It was a move impressive enough to leave a lasting impression on his teammates.
"Grown-ass man," Edwards said when describing the sack. "Grown-ass man. Me and him always mess around with each other, and he'll be like, you don't know how strong you are, do you? And I'll say, no, you don't know how strong you are. Denico has that weight room strength, he's also a country guy. He has [those] big, country, heavy hands; everything about him is just heavy, strong. That's where that ruggedness comes in."
And while that feat of physical dominance made players and coaches alike raise their eyebrows, Khalil Mack wasn't surprised by the herculean effort by Autry.
"That wasn't surprising to me, because he's a hell of a player," Mack explained. "The thing that he had to work on this year was finishing, and getting to the quarterback, and that's what he did."
With five games left on the regular season slate, Autry has matched his career-high in sacks, and while big No. 96's stats might not jump off the page, he serves a vital role on the Raiders defensive line, and his contributions for the team's defense certainly don't go unnoticed.
"He wears a lot of hats," Franklin said. "He plays a lot of roles. We ask him to do a few more things than most of the other guys, and he's on the field a little bit more. He's not a starter, but he is a starter. What he does, he understands his role, and I always tell [them], master your current role, and then your role will increase. He's definitely a guy who's really taken that to heart, and wants to do well when he's in there."
The roles that Autry plays for the Raiders are multiple.
He not only has the ability to line up along each position on the defensive front, but he plays on special teams as well. However, when Autry can not only take up space in the interior but get after the quarterback as well, it frees up the Khalil Macks and Bruce Irvins of the world to do what they do best.
"That's one of the things that's preached about through the league, we've got guys that play inside, outside, and you have a rotation of guys, it's very helpful when you have an eight-man rotation, and everybody eats," Mack said. "That's really the growth of the defensive line, having guys step up like Denico, and 'Rio' [Mario Edwards], and Eddie [Vanderdoes] all those different younger guys, step up and get in that rotation... crazy up front."
Both Franklin and Mack said that Autry has grown immensely as far as his mental approach to the game as well as his understanding of defensive scheme, but one area that has never been questioned or in need of growth is his effort and on-field motor.
"Denico has always been the guy that we saw on Sunday," Edwards said. "It's just about numbers, and when you're given an opportunity. He got his opportunity, and he took it, and he took damn good advantage of it, and it was great to see that."
"Like I tell him, it's all about your effort, it's all about your finish, and that doesn't really take talent," added Franklin. "That's here, in your heart, and he has the heart of a lion, so we just keep working, and keep getting better."