Defensive end Jason Hunter of the Raiders has played for the Lions, Packers and Broncos. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Jason Hunter was an undrafted free agent from Appalachian State in 2006 when he made the roster of the Green Bay Packers, so he’s used to flying below the radar.
In bouncing from the Packers to the Lions to the Broncos in his seven-year NFL career, Hunter is used to playing an auxiliary role and being a low-profile piece of the puzzle for the teams he’s worked for.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a valuable piece.
This spring, Hunter, a 6-foot-4, 271-pound defensive end, was signed as a free agent by Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. In ejecting such high-priced defensive linemen as Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour this offseason, McKenzie went bargain hunting and came up with Hunter, who spent all last season on injured reserve with the Broncos because of a triceps tear.
But Hunter was a starter in Denver until his injury, and the Raiders hope he can give the Raiders a strong, veteran presence at right defensive end this season on a unit that’s been significantly revamped since last season.
In coming to Oakland, he’s been reunited with McKenzie, who was in Green Bay when Hunter came to the NFL, and head coach Dennis Allen, who was Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2011.
Hunter has been operating with the Raiders’ first team in its organized team activities (OTAs) the past two weeks and is just trying to get back in the flow of things after missing so much time.
Allen says Hunter has the qualities the Raiders are looking for, aside from his football skills: he’s a hard worker, he loves football and he’ll play any role the team needs.
“He fits those qualifications, those characteristics that we’re looking for,” Allen told the Bay Area media this week. “I think he’s going to be a real good fit for us.”
In his first two seasons in Denver, Hunter didn’t miss a game. He had three sacks in 2010 and one in 2011. His best overall season in Denver was in 2010, when he had 50 tackles, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception while playing outside linebacker in a 3-4. The next season he was a defensive end in a 4-3 under Allen. In 2009 with the Lions, Hunter had a career-high five sacks in 14 games.
The Raiders are desperately in need of a better pass rush in 2013, and are hoping that Hunter can either get to the quarterback himself or tie up enough blockers to allow linebackers to get more pressure. Last season, Oakland ranked 31st in the NFL with just 25 sacks.
This week, Hunter told reporters he’s starting to knock the rust off his game.
“It’s still going good,” he said. “Right now, it’s still the offseason, so just trying to get my pad level right. We want to get off, just all the little details, fine tune those things. Get myself ready for when the pads come on.”
He’s excited, too, by what he’s seen since coming to the Raiders: the reaction of the fans, some new signings – including former Packers teammate Charles Woodson – and being a part of a Raiders franchise that has a great history and tradition. Though he, Woodson and McKenzie all have come through Green Bay, Hunter says they’re trying to bring the Raiders back to prominence.
“We’re doing things the Raider way,” he said. “Yeah, we got guys that came from Green Bay but those are just great guys that want to do things the right way. It’s all about winning. That’s what the Raiders are used to winning with the late owner, Mr. Al Davis. So that’s just what they bring, the same winning mentality. That’s what we’re here (for), to win.”