Three's Company: Raiders Relying on Trio of Rookie Defensive Linemen

NAPA – The Raiders drafted offensive tackle Kolton Miller in this year's first round. Three of the next four rounds reaped defensive linemen.

Tackle P.J. Hall went in the second round. Edge rusher Arden Key was taken in the third. Tackle Maurice Hurst somehow slid to the fifth.

Coincidence? Certainly not.

Maybe those guys were sitting atop on the draft board when. Maybe a defensive lineman was the best available player in each instance.

No matter. They also filled a major need.

The Raiders needed to help Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin up front. Head coach Jon Gruden said so whenever a microphone came near.

They needed interior pass rushers most of all. They got two of them. They needed depth off the edge. Check.

One issue: Draft picks can't always be counted on to contribute right away. Development sometimes takes time.

The Raiders need D-line help right away. There's a growing belief, however, that Hall, Key and Hurst can make an instant impact.

"The rookies in our room are really going to help us," Irvin said. "They really have no choice, we need them. Those guys are picking it up good and learning. They're coming out here and working their butts off. They're doing really good with their rookie duties. We need them and those guys are doing good."

Key has shown unique athleticism, bend and an arsenal of pass-rush moves. Hall's pectoral strain kept him out a week of camp, but is proving tough to block. Hurst was a first-round talent who slipped with health concerns – an irregular heartbeat scared several teams off -- but was thrown into the mix after being cleared by the Raiders.

Hurst was widely considered a late first-round pick before his heart condition became common knowledge at the combine. Key was a top edge rusher before his senior year at LSU went awry. Those two know they're first-round talents who fell into the Raiders' lap. That has placed a proverbial chip on two shoulders, which could help the Raiders out.

"I don't know if it ever goes away," Hurst said. "It's something you'll always carry with you, and that's okay if it pushes you to work harder. You want to prove your team right and other teams wrong."

Coaches and scouts expect big things from this trio, especially after seeing them early in camp.

Hurst could be a regular three technique in the base defense and on passing downs. His first step and burst was unmatched at the college level, and should help him adapt in the NFL.

Hall is just getting into the mix after starting on PUP, but could join the interior rotation with a solid preseason. Gruden says Hall's "hard to block," and had record-setting production at small-school Sam Houston State.

The rookie defensive linemen have embraced high expectations, and come armed with the confidence required to compete with established vets.

"They don't want us to be rookies," Hurst said. "They want us to come out and play right away and play effectively. They want us to dominate. They expect us to be a vital part of this defense."

Key, Hall and Hurst want to be a long-term solution along the Raiders defensive front. That has been a discussion point, something addressed after rookies reported to training camp, before the veterans showed up.

"We plan on staying together," Key said. "We all had a meeting when we first got here and talked about how we could grow together and make each other better and stay together for our careers. Each guy is working under a veteran right now, learning their tools and tricks. We all come together when we have to do our rookie duties (like carrying pads, getting snacks) but it's fun. We all like each other."

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