Defensive Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes
Ever since former UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the third round (No. 88 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft, all he's wanted to do is play football.
In mid-June, when members of the Silver and Black were building cohesion and working together during OTAs [Organized Team Activities], the 22-year-old from Auburn, Calif., was unable to participate.
Vanderdoes was forced to miss nearly the entirety of the Offseason Workout Program due to an NFL rule requiring him to finish his school term at UCLA before taking the field as a pro, which just so happened to conclude the day after OTAs had wrapped up.
Here we are now, only a few days into grass stains, the sound of blocking sleds crashing, and practice horns blaring through the air, yet Vanderdoes couldn't be happier to be alongside his teammates at training camp in Napa, Calif.
"It's definitely refreshing," he said with a smile. "It's good to finally get back at it and knock some heads around again, and play football again."
While many people would've grown impatient and frustrated waiting to rejoin their teammates, No. 94 opted to go to work, and prepare for when he eventually would be reunited with his comrades.
Vanderdoes trained at a facility west of Los Angeles, in the city of Thousand Oaks, where several other NFL pros find themselves during the offseason. Not only was it beneficial for his physical performance, but it also gave him an opportunity to learn from some players already established in the league.
"Prior to moving out here in July, I've been at Proactive for the last four months," Vanderdoes said. "It's nice working out at Proactive [because] there's a lot of dudes [football players] there. [Raiders left tackle] Donald Penn was out there, talked to him a little bit, picked his brain, he's a great guy. Working with my old teammate [position?] Kenny Clark every day, working out with [Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard] Caleb Benenoch, [Green Bay Packers linebacker] Clay Matthews, and guys like that, just picking their brain."
For any player, there is an inevitable learning curve when reaching the NFL, but surrounding yourself with some experienced minds will hopefully help with the transition process. Fortunately for Vanderdoes, he's entering a situation where he can learn from arguably the best edge-rushing tandem in the NFL in reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and Super Bowl champion linebacker Bruce Irvin.
Last season, the duo combined for 11 sacks, 130 tackles, 11 forced fumbles, and a pick-six, but no need to tell Vanderdoes of their greatness, he's more than cognizant of it.
"When you've got minds like Khalil Mack in your room, Bruce Irvin in the same room as you, you always want to pick the brains of guys like that," he said. "Clearly they've had a formula over the last… I mean, Bruce like seven years, and Khalil like the last three or four, since he got drafted. You obviously want to find out what's separating them from 99 percent of the NFL."
In the coming weeks, Vanderdoes will have plenty of time to do that, but more importantly he will get the chance to line up next to them. Even though he missed an important period of the offseason training, Vanderdoes is confident he can make an impact on the team, as well as earn the respect of his peers.
Considering not many people have seen him on the field since joining the team, there's a lot of eyes anxious to see him suited up, but to him, he's focused on perfecting the mental aspects of the game.
"Obviously you've got to come in and earn your respect with your teammates, but as far as my mindset it's to come in and be the best pro I can be," Vanderdoes stated. "Whether that's taking notes, picking brains of the guys I've mentioned, and just trying to work on little things every day. I think the worst thing I could do to myself is come in here and try to do too much."
The only way to learn the speed of the game is by playing in it, but learning the defensive playbook and schemes is certainly a fool-proof way to enhance one's performance. In due time, Vanderdoes will be asked to contribute to the Raider interior rush, and he's confident in his ability to help when that time arrives.
"I think I definitely can add to that as far as an interior rush," he said. "And an interior presence, pushing the pocket back."
As the team progresses through camp, and the level of competition increases, you better believe I'll be waiting for Vanderdoes to show what he's made of. This is a rookie—and a defense in general – that's hungry for success.