Last season, the Oakland Raiders’ interior pass rush was mostly missing in action.
Now it appears the rookie duo of P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst could give the defense a huge boost in 2018 with intense pressure from the inside.
In Friday night’s exhibition opener, the two draft picks from this spring (Hall in the second round from Sam Houston State and Hurst in Round 5 from Michigan) looked like potential starters and difference-makers with strong games in a win over the Detroit Lions. Hall and Hurst played most of the first half and had consistent penetration on the Lions’ pass plays, with Hall logging a sack. Hurst had one quarterback hit.
The twosome’s performance was duly noted by head coach Jon Gruden, who loved what he saw.
“Well, P.J. Hall comes in on his very first play and gets a sack, I think he bats a pass down, I think he batted down and blocked a lot of kicks in college,” Gruden told reporters. “He’s a very good inside rusher and that’s great for him. He missed part of training camp with a pec strain. Maurice Hurst had some good pressures.”
If those two can provide a pass rush on the interior, it should free up those on the outside, such as rookie Arden Key, Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack (when and if he returns). Key was unable to play in the opener because of a mild ankle injury in practice last week.
Added Gruden: “We’re really hopeful one of these days we’ll get Khalil back to fortify everything, but good start for our two young guys.”
On Hall’s sack, the Raiders’ edge rush flushed the quarterback forward in the pocket, and he was able to wrap him up.
Hall says when Mack returns, everyone will benefit.
“He’s a great edge rusher, so he’s going to have a lot of quarterbacks trying to step up in the pocket,” Hall told Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Hopefully I do a good job of just making sure I get a good interior rush and press some quarterback sacks to him also.”
The Raiders are set to play their second exhibition Saturday afternoon against the Rams in Los Angeles. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.