In a 2018 season that wasn't ripe with defensive highlights, the play of Maurice Hurst was one that could routinely give defensive coordinator Paul Guenther reason to smile.
The rookie defensive tackle played in 13 games, making 10 starts in his first season as a pro, eventually proving himself to be a foundational piece of the Oakland Raiders defensive line.
When all was said and done, the former Michigan Wolverine tallied more sacks than any other Raider (4.0), and his 31 total tackles were third among all the team's defensive linemen.
Now entering his second season, with Frostee Rucker no longer a member of the Silver and Black, Johnathan Hankins ranks as the only lineman that registered more tackles than No. 73 in 2018, but now in 2019, regardless of who is on the roster, Hurst will be asked to build on his strong rookie campaign.
"I feel like I have to," said Hurst when discussing the oft-discussed jump players are expected to make from Year One to Year Two. "That's on me to make the big leap, and on my teammates, and I think if one of us does really well, it helps the whole as a group. Just keeping guys fresh, keeping guys rolling through, keeping guys making plays, I think as a whole, all of our numbers will go up, and all of us will be more productive than we were last season."
"[Hurst] has looked stronger out there," Guenther added. "He's moving a lot better. He was a little bit limited earlier in OTAs, but he's back out there playing at a high level."
In terms of the productivity that Hurst alluded to, the key to that will be an uptick in quarterback pressure.
After finishing last year with just 13 total sacks, the Raiders as a whole know that number has to increase going forward, and while last year's effort certainly wasn't what Hurst and the defense were looking for, the athletic defensive tackle isn't shying away from owning what they put on tape.
"Every single game that we play in they're going to mention our pass rush, and we control the narrative for that," he explained. "Obviously last year wasn't good enough, and we get all the criticism for it, so there's a lot of eyes on us to develop and be specialists here, and just change that narrative, change what they're saying about us, and change our attitude on how we're approaching things."
And while the results of the work that Hurst and his defensive teammates won't fully be recognized until the fall, the key to their development going forward is the guidance of defensive line coach Brentson Buckner.
"We have Coach Buck, and he's really been helping us out, helping develop us, and we just need to keep listening to him," Hurst said. "And I think there are some great things that are going to come, guys are looking really good out there, and I think we're getting better every single time we step on the field."
With the addition of numerous players along the defensive front – including No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell – the Raiders line will look much different than it did just nine months ago, but Hurst thinks that infusion of new faces will pay positive dividends once the team hits the regular season.
"I think we'll be really good," he explained. "I think we have some toughness to us. I think we have some talent that we didn't have last year. I think it's a really exciting time to be a Raider, and exciting time to continue to develop with these guys. I think camp's going to be really fun, and really competitive, so just really excited to see where this team goes, and where things will take us this season."
Hurst will be an integral component to the success of Guenther's defensive unit in 2019 if he's able to take the leap.
Check out photos from Tuesday's Organized Team Activity at the Raiders Practice Facility in Alameda, Calif.