In sports we talk a lot about motivation. A lot of players are talented, but to move beyond that and do great things, something has to drive you. For the Raiders defensive line, they need only mention the number 13.
Not because it’s lucky. Not because they’re all making sure they cover rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow on his routes. Nothing like that. It’s simply about outdoing themselves. And last year the entire Raiders defense put up just 13 sacks. One of the lowest totals in NFL history, let alone team history.
They traded Khalil Mack before the season and waived Bruce Irvin at midseason. Two players who represented 18.0 of the team’s 25.0 sacks the previous season. It was not all that surprising then that by the end of last season, the numbers were as bad as they were. The team’s leading sacker was tackle Maurice Hurst with 4.0 sacks. Only one edge rusher had any sacks at all and that was rookie Arden Key who sat at one sack since week six.
“That’s something that stays in the back of our head when we’re feeling lackadaisical or practicing a little down, then we got to remind ourselves that we had 13 sacks last year. We working to get that up,” said Key.
The reminder of the fateful number comes from players and coaches alike. And it isn’t specific to those who were with the team last season to experience it. New defensive line coach Brentson Buckner is sure to remind them of their pathetic sack totals as is new defensive end Josh Mauro.
Johnathan Hankins chimes in from time to time with the timely reminder as well. Not surprisingly though, it starts at the top with Jon Gruden.
“Gruden’s saying it more than us,” said Hankins. “But I appreciate him doing that. We understand it’s always in the back our minds. We know what we got to do and we just accept the challenge.”
Hankins and Key are both entering their second season with the Raiders. Key especially is coming into his pivotal second season in the NFL along with fellow draftees PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst. The team added pass rusher Benson Mayowa in free agency and drafted Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby all to hopefully give them something where there was next to nothing.
It will also be important for the 2018 rookies to improve in their second season. Key has been working on getting stronger and Hall is working to try and make an impact after being mostly ineffective his rookie season.
“It’s a big thing,” Hall said of the number 13 reminder. “We know we didn’t get enough sacks out there. For me the biggest thing is we got to stop the run. If we don’t stop the run, then we’re not going to be able to rush the passer. That’s our main thing. Once we do that, we’ll be able to get after it. So, we’re out here doing a lot of moves, trying to affect the passer more this year.”
Hall has a point. Stopping the run means putting the opposing team in more third and long situations, which is where many sacks are generated. That’s when the Nascar package comes and the edge rushers can ‘pin their ears back’ and get after the quarterback.
New defensive end Josh Mauro is a run stopper. He and PJ Hall and Justin Ellis may not offer much in the way of pass rush, but they could help put them in position to get there. Then the new pass rushers must take advantage.
“We definitely got some depth,” said Hankins. “This year I definitely think we’re going to affect the quarterback. Last year we only had 13 sacks, but new mindset, new team, new Dline coach, so we’re just ready to accept the challenge and show the league what we got.”