Jon Gruden is an upfront coach. He never hides his intentions behind coach speak or double-talk. Case in point: The Oakland Raiders head coach let us all know exactly what he was going to do in the NFL Draft.
“(Khalil Mack) is a spectacular player,” the head coach said last month. “I don’t think he has scratched the surface yet. If we can get a better inside pass rush, a more consistent inside rush, a dominant inside rush, you will see the best of this guy. You see some of the disruption he hasn’t gotten credit for, and it’s really exciting for us to see what could happen.”
Oh, the plan did not look finished.
“When Khalil got tired last year, who’s the third rusher?” Gruden asked. “When Bruce got tired, who’s the third rusher? “You’ve got to have at least three guys that can get after the quarterback because you win games with your fourth-quarter pass rush. You work 57 minutes to get a lead, and your fourth-quarter pass rush has to close the door down.”
Moreover, round-by-round, Gruden’s plan clicked: P.J Hall, an interior wrecking ball in the second round. Arden Key, a lethal edge rusher who lost his way in the third. In addition, Maurice Hurst an inside disruptor in the fifth who tumbled due to concerns with his ticker.
Gruden said he believes the Raiders got the two best interior pass rushers in Hall and Hurst while Key has the skill set to be the third harrier and door closes on the edge. The head coach has given his defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, the requisite pieces for a Fantastic 4. Slated to import a downhill aggressive four down linemen front he ran with the Cincinnati Bengals, Guenther may possess the necessary ingredients to brew up a perfect storm in Oakland. What was missing in the cupboard — a terrorizing interior defensive tackle in the mold of Geno Atkins — Gruden added not once, but twice? Plus, the array of alignments Guenther can deploy is both delicious and dizzying.
With Bruce Irvin moving back to defensive end, the Raiders early look can be Mack, Hall/Hurst, Justin Ellis and Irvin. Nevertheless, the combination can be endless. And Guenther could trot out a vicious NFL fad, the NASCAR front which favors speed over everything else. The alignment regularly sees a dominant edge rusher move inside to mystify interior offensive linemen. You have seen it before. The New York Giants used it to rattle the New England Patriots in 2011 and the Philadelphia Eagles deployed it this past Super Bowl.
What would the Raiders’ front look like? Picture this: Mack, Hall, Hurst, and Irvin. Alternatively, Mario Edwards, Mack, Hall/Hurst, Irvin. On the other hand, Key, Mack, Edwards, Irvin.
Guenther noted the best blitz would be keeping Mack in one-on-one situations. The additions of Hall, Hurst, and Key can make that a reality. If the Fortuitous Four are laying the smackdown, Guenther can get truly evil genius and deploy the exotic blitzes he learned from mentor Mike Zimmer (Minnesota’s head honcho). Imagine opposing quarterbacks not only having to account for an effective natural front-four rush. Yet, also potential linebackers and/or defensive backs bringing the heat?
That is all dependent on Gruden, Guenther and the rest of the Raiders defensive staff developing the draft picks. But if it gets clicking, the opposing quarterbacks will be dropping.