Well before Las Vegas Raiders training camp even started, it was known that rookie tight end Michael Mayer was going to need to work on his blocking skills in the NFL. General manager Dave Ziegler said as much after Mayer was drafted, so did head coach Josh McDaniels and it was one of his biggest areas of improvement as an NFL Draft prospect.
Mayer broke records as a pass-catcher at Notre Dame but was just a solid blocker and struggled against defenders who are physical at the point of attack. Well, few players in the league are more tenacious than Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby and the rookie found that out the hard way.
During one of the team’s first padded practices, Crosby reportedly gave Mayer some trouble in a handful of one-on-one matchups and delivered a few ‘Welcome to the NFL’ moments by putting the tight end in the ground. Mayer kept getting up though, and head coach Josh McDaniels said it will serve as a good lesson for him.
“Absolutely. And it wasn’t a bad lesson,” McDaniels when asked if those reps were a learning lesson for the rookie. “It’s his first day in pads in the National Football League. I mean, there’s a baptism sometimes that happens. It is what it is.
“We all learn hard lessons in this league, but the hard ones are sometimes the best ones. He had a great attitude yesterday about just seeing the things that he wasn’t doing right. And that’s why we were so excited about having him here and being able to draft him. He has the right mindset, tough, no back down. Learned it’s different, you know what I mean?
“It can be different for different people, depending on who you’re playing against. So, he’ll be better today because of what happened yesterday. And that’s what Maxx wants. Maxx wants them to be better and to compete as much as he can, as hard as he can on every play.”
Every first-year player has at least one of those moments so, as McDaniels alluded to, there’s no shame in Mayer struggling to block a two-time Pro Bowler early on in his career. Even outside of professional football, there’s always a bumpy transition anytime someone starts a new job, just with fewer physical consequences in the ‘real world’.
The point is, it’s expected that the Notre Dame product isn’t hitting the ground running with this part of his game, especially since run-blocking can be the most difficult transition for a rookie tight end and McDaniels shined some light as to why that is.
“I think sometimes that’s more dependent on what they were asked to do in college than the difference between doing it in college and doing it in the NFL,” McDaniels explained. “Some tight ends aren’t required or asked to do that as much in college based on the offensive system they come from.”
“That’s why there’s some guesswork sometimes when you don’t see the guy in line much in college football, to what that would ultimately look like and become if you ask them to do some of that in the NFL. So, that’s a piece of it.”
For context, Mayer did record 389 run-blocking snaps last year which was tied for the ninth-most among FBS tight ends, via Pro Football Focus, but he played in a spread offense where he was split out wide on over 35 percent of his total snaps. So, he didn’t have a ton of exposure in-line blocking against defensive linemen coming out of college.
“I think the second piece is just the guys that you’re playing against are a little bigger, a little faster, a little stronger,” McDaniels continued. “They are more proficient with their technique, their hands, their feet, and all the little, tiny mistakes that you might be able to get away with in college football depending on who you’re playing against, those get exposed pretty quickly in the NFL.
“I kind of assimilate it to running backs, in terms of handling blitzes and blocking blitzers and all the rest of it. And sometimes they look a little bit like a fish out of water too. But some of the very best ones that I’ve ever been around started that exact same way, worked at it, developed through opportunities, got better and then ultimately were some of the best players that I’ve ever coached in the backfield at doing that. Same thing at tight end.
“It’s work, and like I said, it’s a little bit new based on what we’re asking some of them do to what maybe what they did in college.”
Between his attitude and everything that’s been said about his work ethic, Mayer should be able to become at least a serviceable blocker in the future. And I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his goals is to get some payback on Crosby later in camp!