Protect the quarterback. Disrupt the quarterback.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s draft-day intentions focused on exactly just that on Day 1 and 2:
- Round 1: Offensive tackle Kolton Miller (UCLA)
- Round 2: Defensive tackle P.J. Hall (Sam Houston State)
- Round 3: Offensive tackle Brandon Parker (North Carolina A&T) and Edge Arden Key (LSU)
And perhaps the crème de la crème: Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (Michigan) early in the fifth round.
Four straight prospects and arguably the top interior disruptor in the fifth to fortify an offensive and defensive line Gruden clearly sees as faulty. (There’s debate on whether Key will be a hands-in-dirt rusher or the stand-up variety. Since he’s a pass rusher by trade, we’ll go with “lineman” for now.)
Happen to catch the Raiders’ Day 2 post-draft presser with Gruden center stage? His want for a sturdier front on both sides of the ball was reinforced with a burn-a-hole-in-your-soul glare.
“I’m not going to apologize or be sad about taking two young offensive tackles with the people we’ve got to block in this division,” Gruden said. “We’re not playing 7-on-7 here. We don’t get to count steamboats or three Mississippi’s before they rush.”
And then came perhaps the true reason why two towering and athletic tackles in Miller and Parker were taken in the opening and third round:
“We need guys that can block, and we addressed that today. And we have a quarterback, I think, that’s one hell of a football player, and it’s a priority to protect him. He’s been hurt the last two years and it bothers me,” Gruden said with crystal clear disdain.
Sandwiched between the big O-linemen is the short and stout Hall. A small-school prospect who produced every year at tiny Sam Houston.
“We need an inside pass rusher. I think I’ve said that since I’ve been here. Somebody that can disrupt running plays and penetrate,” Gruden said. “And this guy can do that. So we’re really excited to get him.”
Keep Carr upright and make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable, better yet, bring them down to the grass or turf — hard. Gruden subscribes to the old football adage it all begins in the trenches. That ’s surely how the Raiders re-engage the renaissance it had only two seasons ago.
- Fans may not like the selections, yet Gruden catered to his $125 million quarterback and his soon-to-be $100-million-plus defensive end, Khalil Mack.
- Along the way Gruden nabbed a third receiving option (Martavis Bryant in a trade with Pittsburgh), bolstered the secondary (Wisconsin’s Nick Nelson in the fourth), snagged a booming punter (Florida’s Johnny Townsend in the fifth) and added a thumping middle linebacker (Washington’s Azeem Victor in the sixth).
- The Raiders picks are high-risk, high-reward types. Gruden’s confidence in his coaching staff will either be bolstered or eroded depending on the selection’s development, such as Key and Hurst and the addition of Bryant.