Wednesday was the first day of Raiders in pads. The intensity picked up and we were finally able to get a good judgment of how some of these new Raiders would perform. The early standout in rookie defensive end Jack Crawford.
Crawford broke into the offensive backfield for would-be sacks on three separate occasions. Two of those sacks were separated by one play. Both times, he shot right up the gut too and was in Matt Leinart's face so fast, he had no chance to react.
He showed the ability to take the edge on a few occasions in previous days of camp but until the pads go on, it doesn't mean much.
"Yeah, you know, it just feels good to put the pads on," said Crawford. "Just through OTA's and stuff like that and these past couple practices without pads on there's only so much you can do in terms of contact wise. And coach Allen had a big discussion about being physical and that's something you have to be in this. And I think as the padded practices go on, you're gonna get more intense, more physical and just trying to get ready for the first preseason coming up."
The relentless pressure by Crawford is not a fluke. He has worked incredibly hard to reach this level of talent. For a guy who didn't play football until his junior year who was then recruited by Penn State and was a four year starter, the proof is in the pudding.
Originally, from England, he came to the US to play basketball. He attributes his work ethic to that move as well as his early goals of playing professional basketball for his work ethic.
"I've had that for a while," Crawford says of his work ethic. "And I think I had that when I first came to America in high school. I didn't have no friends out here, I was a basketball player, I didn't have no friends out here. I didn't really make any friends quickly and all I could do was just practice basketball and over here I saw an opportunity to really get better. Not having any friends and really no distractions and that helped. I carried that on to football when I started playing my junior year and when I saw the success I had and I got offered the scholarship at Penn State then everything becomes more realistic. All the goals become more realistic and I just carried it on from there. Now it's just a work ethic thing. I don't even think about the end goal, I just think about every day getting better."
That hard work and want to be great has head coach Dennis Allen taking notice.
"I'm pleased with Jack." Said Allen. "Jack, obviously he's a young player so he's still learning the game, but he's a big guy that's got athleticism, and he wants to be good. And I think if you have athleticism and some football instincts and you're willing to work to get there, then he'll at some point be a player for us.
"When I say that, what I'm saying is he's willing to do the things that are necessary to be good. And I think in my experiences, some guys are willing to go that extra to really be good and some guys are looking for some shortcuts to take. They want to be good but they're not willing to pay the price to be good. And he's one of those that's willing to pay the price to be good."
That is high praise for such a young player. It is high praise for any player. That kind of praise from his head coach goes a long way to a rookie.
"I definitely appreciate that coming from him," said Crawford. "Exactly what he says, everybody wants to be great and I'm just trying to find a way to actually become great and I just wanna keep trying. It definitely gets tough but you just gotta keep trying and keep going. If you wanna be great you have to keep going."
The Raiders obviously liked this four year defensive end enough to draft him. But even so, coaches can still be pleasantly surprised with their picks. For most players, it's about potential to develop certain qualities. For Crawford, the surprise is that he has many of those qualities already.
"He's still relatively new to the game," said Allen. "So if it was one thing I'd say that's his knowledge of the game and his instincts and the way that he's able to pick up things I've been impressed with."
At this rate, Crawford could begin seeing more reps against the first team offense to see how he holds up. But it Crawford will have to show today's practice wasn't an anomaly.
"The evaluation process takes time, and so we're not going to jump out after one or two practices, one practice in pads, and flip the whole depth chart around," said Allen. "But we notice when guys make plays we keep track of that, and when a guy makes enough plays eventually he gets a chance to move up the depth chart and see if he can do it against a different level of competition. And so we'll continue to evaluate it and when we feel like there's a need to move somebody up or down we'll make those changes."
Getting three sacks in a fifteen minute team session is impressive enough that if he can continue that, I can easily foresee him getting a shot to see how he does against the first team offensive line. Crawford saw opportunities to make plays in previous practices, before he was allowed to make contact. He also was pleased with his work on the day but was quick to downplay it, choosing to focus more on the Raiders' first preseason game against the Cowboys.
"It doesn't mean anything until you actually put the pads on and then you do it. And even when you put the pads on, you still have to do it in a game so in my mind I'm just trying to focus and establish getting better every day so I'm ready for Dallas when they come up."
He is definitely a player to watch as camp goes on. And from what I can gather, he is going to be an extremely valuable reserve defender for this team this season.