Paul Guenther sees progression in Hurst and Key's transition from college to the NFL

Rookie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. registered his first official sack as an Oakland Raider against the Denver Broncos, and he rejoiced with one of the better sack celebrations around the league – a fantastic belly rub, and a hand gesture announcing his arrival. Hurst is just one of the many young pass rushers the Raiders have on their roster, and grooming him along with other promising players is a point of emphasis for the coaching staff.

Through two weeks of action the Silver and Black haven’t been as impactful in the pass rush as they’d like to be, totaling just two sacks in two games, but Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther and his staff are finding other ways to be effective.

“Obviously, you’d like to have sacks, but if you really look at it guys and you look at the statistics year in and year out, the teams that are up there in sacks aren’t necessarily playoff teams,” Guenther explained Thursday. “A lot of times they’re not. You’d always like to get a number of sacks. One year we didn’t have as many. The next year we came back we had double the amount. It kind of feeds off each other. The kind of personnel you have. That’s really not the most important thing, but obviously it’s something that you want to get after the opposing quarterback.”

With Justin Ellis and second-round pick P.J. Hall sidelined, the team has brought in Clinton McDonald and Johnathan Hankins to try and fill the void, but it needs more out of young players like Hurst and Arden Key. All throughout training camp the coaching staff was vocal about needing them to contribute from the start, but it also needs help from veterans like defensive end Bruce Irvin.

“Well first of all he can’t get penalties on third down,” Guenther said. “In a critical game like that, you can’t have those kinds of penalties. Obviously, as the game wore on, it was kind of hard to sub some of the guys at the end because they’re on a one-minute drill. I always say our best player has to play great all the time. He’s one of them and he has to play great for us to be successful all the time.”

Seven seasons into his career, Irvin has established himself as a quality edge rusher, but for the rookies they’re still finding their footing. I say it repeatedly, but there’s a natural learning curve players go through when they’re transitioning from college to the NFL, and as Hurst, Key, and Hall gain more experience they’ll certainly adapt to the speed of the game. At this juncture, the coaching staff is pleased with what they’ve seen from the 2018 draft class, and they’re looking forward to more growth.

“It was their second game. Maurice got a sack and Arden did better in the rush I think, so I’m just looking for putting one block on top of the other with those guys,” Guenther shared. “Obviously P.J. is in the training room, so when he gets back we need to get him going too.”

“Mo is very smart, works extremely hard, great young man as a person also, and he has all the tools to be successful in this league for a long time because of his work ethic,” Assistant defensive line coach Marco Coleman added. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing. As far as what he does that’ll make the difference for him going forward.”

The Raiders are getting ready to embark on their trip to Miami to face the Dolphins in Week 3, and after two games, the Dolphins have allowed five sacks, and nine quarterback hits. Ryan Tannehill is healthy once again after tearing his ACL at the beginning of last year, and he’s led the team from South Beach to a record of 2-0 to start the year. We’ll see how Hurst and Key build on their rookie campaigns in Week 3.

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