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Raiders Film Room: Rookie Maurice Hurst emerges

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Many Raiders fans were excited to see Maurice Hurst fall into Gruden’s lap in the 5th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The highly touted Michigan defensive tackle Hurst was widely regarded as a first round talent with even some mock drafts having the Raiders taking him with their pick at 10 overall. But a question mark during a heart exam caused many teams to take him off their boards altogether, allowing him to be available into the 5th round.

Hurst played big time football for 4 years at University of Michigan, winning in college with quickness and hand placement. His biggest knock was his lack of strength at the point of attack but four games into his NFL career he’s showed enough power to be a major cog in the Raiders defensive line rotation.

After slow start Hurst had easily his best game this past Sunday against the Browns. He has been getting more and more pressure through the first four weeks of the season and has amassed two sacks on the season. His progress culminated in a very productive game against the Cleveland Browns, forcing a fumble, blocking a pass attempt, and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Lets take a look at Hurst’s development through the first quarter of the season.

Interior pass rush

Providing a push inside is the reason why Maurice Hurst was drafted. Having a great pass rusher at defensive tackle is something most teams rarely ever have. Gruden has gone on record expressing his desire for the Raiders to develop the interior pass rush. Hurst has improved getting to the passer each week.

Week 1 against the Rams Hurst got to see just how hard his job will be in the NFL. Against this double team Hurst tries a rip move to beat the guard inside. Hurst doesn’t do a good job of feeling the center come over to help and is immediately stymied at the line. During week 1 it was common to see Hurst struggle to string together pass rush moves. Welcome to the NFL rookie.

By week 2 Hurst started to get more comfortable rushing the passer. Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther lines Hurst up at 5 technique—outside the shoulder of the offensive tackle in this odd front blitz. Hurst uses a bull rush to walk the tackle back preventing Keenum from stepping up in the pocket. He is able to convert speed to power here with an explosive get-off, and disengage from his blocker to notch his first NFL sack.

By week 4 Hurst no longer needed exotic blitz schemes to get pressure on the passer. In this rep against the Browns, Hurst is lined up outside the right guard’s shoulder. Hurst bobs his head inside to stop the guards feet and uses a swipe/rip move to turn a tight corner. His presence of mind to reach out and strip Mayfield is the kind of thing elite pass rushers are able to do consistently and he is able to force a turnover.

In this rep Hurst again gets doubled by the guard and center. This time he does a much better job anticipating the double team and gets his hands on the center. You see him continue to work his hands keeping the blocker out of his chest. This effort here gives him enough room to disengage and put his hand up in the passing lane to swat down a pass.

The best interior pass rushers affect the quarterback in a variety of ways. It’s clear Hurst understands that the game of football is all about the ball and his savvy is starting to catch up to his natural abilities. If he continues on his current trajectory he should provide an excellent complement to Bruce Irvin and Paul Guenther’s blitz schemes around the edges.

Defending the run

When a rookie defensive lineman gets early playing time they better be prepared to be show they aren’t pushovers. Hurst was up to the challenge from the start of the season. He still can improve in this area but his detractors who said he wasn’t strong enough anchor in the NFL have been proven wrong. Hurst has made run stops in every contest so far in 2018. It is for this reason he has been able to see so much action early in his career.

Take this play week 1 for example. Hurst is lined up on the outside shoulder of the Rams right guard. He explodes out of his snap and locks out the blocker with a great punch. His hand placement provides him the leverage to not be pushed off his block when the right guard doubles him. Hurst showcases impressive body control to reset his base while reading the run to make a stop for a short gain.

It’s not just inside runs where Hurst does damage. No doubt the Raiders were prepared for the gadget screens and sweeps to wide-receivers. You see the linebackers call out this designed bubble screen to the right. Hurst does an impressive job reacting to the play, hustling down the line and making a 1-on-1 tackle against a much quicker player along the sideline.

Hurst showed he’s strong enough at the point of attack, and his play recognition equals his hustle. In week 4 however he makes another impressive run stop but this time with finesse. Hurst’s bob and swipe will no doubt be his favorite move to use this season, especially if it continues to get him quick wins like it does on this rep. Hurst’s ankle flexibility here to turn the corner and get lateral allows him to make a tackle in the backfield.

Conclusion

Hurst’s development is starting to heat up. The Cleveland game shows his confidence is continuing to grow and that will allow him to be loose and attack the offensive line with reckless abandon.

Hurst was compared to Geno Atkins and even Aaron Donald before the NFL draft. He’s not yet that type of player however. While not as strong as those two he has similar length and tools which translates into playing style. Hurst should continue to get stronger the longer he stays in the league.

Paul Guenther clearly has a lot of confidence in the rookie and in the plays above Hurst lines up at 1-Technique (shaded on the center), 3-Technique (shaded on the guard), and 5-Technique (shaded on the tackle). The football IQ and awareness Hurst has displayed so far are rare for a rookie.

If Hurst can stay healthy and continue to improve from week to week, the Raiders have will have gained an exciting player and finally that interior pass rusher they’ve been needing.