On Thursday after a media session with Jon Gruden, I posed this thought on Twitter:
Gruden is all over Collins, Hankins and Ross and is not saying much about Hurst. It might not mean anything … or it might. #Raiders— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonNFL) August 6, 2020
In the past week, Gruden has raved about new defensive tackle Maliek Collins, while barely mentoring third-year Raiders’ defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Gruden also sang the praises of holdover Johnathan Hankins and free-agent addition Daniel Ross, who like Collins, played for new Raiders’ defensive line coach Rod Marinelli in Dallas.
After making some phone calls, I’ve come to this conclusion: Gruden isn’t down on Hurst, despite not saying much about him. He is simply just super high on Collins.
Gruden’s defenses traditionally have revolved around a solid three-technique defensive tackle, who is an excellent pass-rusher, but who can also play the run. The Raiders think Collins, who signed a one-year deal this offseason, can be that guy in Las Vegas.
Last week, Gruden said Collins has to “raise hell” this season. This week, he was effusive in his praise of Collins, who is just 25.
“He’s officially about to enter the prime of his career,” Gruden said. “So, he’s got a lot of playing experience. He’s got a lot of technical knowledge of what we want done. I think I said it the last time we had a presser, he’s the key to our defense. I think he’s got a chance to be one of the better ones. We’re happy about that.”
It’s clear Collins is going to be the point man at defensive tackle with Hankins and Ross getting playing time as well. But that doesn’t mean the end of the line for Hurst, who has been a starter since being taken in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
The Raiders would like to see him make more plays and take the next step and they think he can. In an ideal world, Gruden will see Collins and Hurst both thrive in Las Vegas for the long term.