Linebacker Shilique Calhoun
The Oakland Raiders haven't had a hard time getting after the quarterback this preseason, and defensive tackle Justin "Jelly" Ellis had the best seat in the house to watch the unit go to work Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
While he and a majority of the defensive starters didn't hit the field in the preseason finale, his lack of snaps did nothing to hinder his excitement when watching the younger crop of defensive lineman – particularly when Denico Autry and Shilique Calhoun produced back-to-back sacks of Seahawks quarterback Trevone Boykin in the second quarter.
"I was hyped," said Ellis. "If the camera was on me, man, it showed me jumping up and down. I was hyped. I know our coach was happy too, everybody was."
On Seattle's first drive of the second quarter, Autry was able to put the Seahawks offense in 2nd and 14, after rushing through the offensive line, and taking down Boykin for an emphatic loss of four.
"It was my first third-down rush, really, so I just thought about getting off, and getting to the quarterback," Autry explained.
On the very next play, Calhoun found his way onto the stat sheet, bringing down Boykin again, this time for a loss of seven, resulting in a 1st and 10 quickly becoming a 3rd and 21.
"For the most part, the tackle kind of blocked down, and I saw an opportunity, so I took it and I know that coaches are always talking, 'if you have it, go for it, but come up with grass, or you're in trouble,'" Calhoun said. "The biggest thing is, it was an opportunity for me to go ahead and get back there, I saw that I was unblocked, and I just tried to make a play."
The back-to-back sacks were the Raiders only two of the night, but the unit was able to provide consistent pressure to the trio of Seahawks quarterback, and that consistency was a welcome sight for Ellis to see from the sidelines.
"They really impressed me," Ellis said when asked about the play of the defensive line. "I thought they played tough, hard, great football. I think a lot of them finally started to [fit] into the schemes, and they're getting used to it. I was excited about it."
While Autry's sack might have been the highlight of his night, it was just part of what was a very productive outing for the third-year lineman, as he finished the game with six total tackles, the aforementioned sack, five tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, and one pass defensed. He was also a critical factor in the safety that resulted in the Raiders first points of the night. It was by far his most impressive performance of the preseason, and he credited a little bit of coaching for the uptick in productivity.
"I've just been working on using my hands," Autry said. "That's one thing that [Head Coach Jack Del Rio] got on me about all week, using my hands."
The Silver and Black finished the preseason with seven sacks, and over the past month, Calhoun has really seen the group gel, and the rookie linebacker is looking forward to that chemistry continuing to grow.
"It's an amazing thing," Calhoun said. "You see a band of guys coming together for one goal, and to accomplish that goal week in and week out is special, and it's something that I think we have within this team, a special group of guys who are willing to anything for their brothers, and if that's sacrificing a play, or sacrificing this or that play, than that's what it'll be. I'm just happy with our success, and I look forward to some more great games in this stadium as well."
The next time the Raiders hit the field will be at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 1 of the regular season, and Calhoun, along with the rest of the defense, is now counting down the days until meaningful football.
"Honestly, we're ready to make it count, and I think that every game, but this one will stick on the record," Calhoun said. "If you want to make it to the playoffs, if you want to make it to the Super Bowl or whatever, you have to start with this game. It's each and every individual game, and I feel like this game is as important as the last, so it's time to go ahead and get after it."