If all goes to plan, the Oakland Raiders will have an electric pass rush in 2018.
With the assumption that Khalil Mack will eventually find himself in the mix this year, joining forces with Bruce Irvin and Arden Key to solidify the edge rush for the Silver and Black, there is an anticipation – an expectation even – that the team will be able to eclipse the 31 sacks they tallied in 2017.
And as much fanfare as Irvin and Key have understandably garnered during the first week or so of training camp, if the Raiders really want to be effective getting after the quarterback, they'll need to pair it with a rush up the middle as well.
For whatever reason, over the past handful of years, the Raiders – as dynamic as they've been off the edge – have not found the same success coming straight up the middle, but based off the pieces that have been added to the defensive line, that will hopefully be remedied this year.
"When you're running a three-man line, you need a nose tackle," Coach Gruden explained Monday. "You need a mammoth, big, space-eating nose tackle and Justin Ellis is really becoming that kind of player. Now in the 4-3, we'd like some more penetration and more push in the pocket and he can do that. He did that in college. He's doing that now. Ahtyba Rubin is a big guy. We have two guys in the bullpen I'm anxious to see P.J. Hall and [Eddie] Vanderdoes."
Well, Gruden got one of those big fellas back Wednesday, when rookie defensive tackle P.J. Hall participated in his first practice of Training Camp 2018.
"He [Hall] obviously was limited," Gruden said following Wednesday's practice. "We want to ease him back into things. He did a lot of individual work. We'll try to get him some one-on-one rushes tomorrow and ease him into the nine-on-seven. Remember, he didn't get the four days of the rookie preparation. We're happy to have him back, we think he's an inside pass rusher, he's hard to block, and hopefully we continue to see progress."
With Hall back in the mix, joining Mario Edwards Jr., Justin Ellis, as well as fellow rookie Maurice Hurst, 2018 could lead to big things coming from the middle of the defensive line.
The Raiders invested two draft picks into the position, so they're certainly be hoping that's the case.
Keep an eye on Hall and Hurst in particular once the preseason arrives; both are exciting young prospects, and I think we'll see a lot of them headed into Week 1.
With P.J. Hall coming off the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, the PUP list is now down to just two players, tackle Donald Penn and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.
It sounds like Vanderdoes might be returning sooner than later, but for the time being, he remains on the recovery trail. Wednesday, per usual, he was working on the side with Penn, as well as running back Jalen Richard who's working his way back from a calf injury.
Other players who didn't suit up for Wednesday's session include, tight end Derek Carrier, tackle Brandon Parker, cornerback Gareon Conley, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant who was dealing with an illness.
Also, after missing a few days of work, rookie running back Chris Warren III returned to practice Wednesday.
-NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock was in the house today to watch practice. Largely considered one of the premier talent evaluators in the game, it was cool to see Mayock and Coach Gruden chopping it up before practice; I would have loved to hear those two talk ball for 15 minutes.
-Wednesday's practice was another padded one for the Raiders, but with about 40 minutes left in their three-hour session, Coach Gruden instructed the players to take off their pads. The team went through the final periods of the morning without them.
-After a strong start to his first training camp in Silver and Black, veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson was once again the talk of practice Wednesday, flashing his pure speed, and gaining separation from the Raiders' defensive backs when needed. Headed into his eleventh NFL season, there was speculation that the former Green Bay Packer might have lost a step or two, but that hasn't appeared to be the case since he arrived in Napa.
-Derek Carr has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, and he showed that arm off a little bit Wednesday, demonstrating his range during a passing drill where he connected with Keon Hatcher who was streaking down the field. Arm strength has never been an issue for No. 4; here's to hoping that we see him get to use it a lot more in 2018.
-James Butler went through his second practice as a member of the Raiders, and the rookie running back actually had a few nice moments out there Wednesday. Running back depth is always at a premium in the NFL, so let's see if he can keep that positive momentum rocking over the next few weeks.
-I see you, Tevin Mitchel. No. 37 had one of the nicer plays of the day, making an acrobatic play to swat-down a pass headed his way.
"He had an outstanding offseason. I mean he made a lot of plays in the box, deep, covering, special teams. Right now he has a chance to be a full-time starter for the Oakland Raiders. That's what I think of him." – Head Coach Jon Gruden on what he's seen from safety Erik Harris thus far.
The Lighter Side:
Any day where Mistah F.A.B. and The Federation are played at practice is a good day, and such was the case Wednesday. From Mac Dre, to Keak Da Sneak, and everyone in between, it warmed my heart to see that hyphy movement was well-represented during Wednesday's session.
The Silver and Black will return to the practice field tomorrow morning, and will then practice, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before their league-mandated off day Sunday.