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Defensive line room dialed in on setting the standard for the roster

With the way it's looking early on for the Raiders defensive line, the rich got richer this offseason.

The big men in the trenches already had steam coming off of the 2023 season. Maxx Crosby was an NFL Defensive Player of the Year finalist, Malcolm Koonce totaled eight sacks in the last nine games of the year and the defense allowed less than 17 points a game from Week 9 on.

The proverbial icing on the cake was added with Christian Wilkins.

Rob Leonard, defensive line coach, previously worked with Wilkins at the Miami Dolphins for three seasons. He also coached Adam Butler and John Jenkins in Miami, who combined for six sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season.

"We have a pretty transparent room, so when I'm coaching something, there's little details," Leonard said. My job is to set the standard for how we do things, how we play a base, how we play a reach, how we play scoop, how we rush the passer with four, how we rush five. Black and white is my job. This is how we do it."

"It's one of the best groups I've been around in over 12 years. It's been a lot of fun," he added. "What's crazy is it's the same group plus [Wilkins] from last year. Last year, I remember what people were saying as well going into the season."

Crosby, like Leonard, also remembers the outside noise around the defensive line last year. What was considered a question mark of the team evolved into one of its biggest strengths.

While the expectations have risen for the group, the standard internally has remained the same.

"We've been preseason Super Bowl contenders and also preseason, 'We're going to lose every game.' All that [expletive] doesn't matter," Crosby said after the first minicamp practice Tuesday. "We just have to be ourselves, focus on what's most important and that's the work and the process. ... For me, that's why I just try to stay present because I've been in those situations many, many times and we've got guys that are also in that position."

What's not lost heading into Leonard's second season with the Raiders is how he's gained the respect of the locker room. Multiple players, including Crosby, have co-signed Leonard's ability to really connect with the defensive line.

"He challenges us every day," Crosby said. "He coaches people different, but he doesn't shy away from coaching. Nowadays there's a lot of guys that feel like they are too big to be coached and things like that, and it's my way or no way. Rob is a guy that can relate to us.

"He played Division I football, he's been around a lot of great players, and people have his respect in our room. ... It's a special group, and it starts with him. I think he's done an incredible job, and he just pushes us in every single way."

Get an inside look at the Silver and Black's first day of mandatory minicamp at Intermountain Health Performance Center.

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