The Raiders continue to preach flexibility in their scheme under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, but the way they are building their front seven suggests a push toward a base 3-4 alignment.
That could mean a slight change for Maxx Crosby, who has worked almost exclusively as a hand-in-the-ground defensive end lined up to the outside of the tackle.
“Maxx Crosby can do a lot of things,” said Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, hinting at new wrinkles being added to Crosby’s game.
One option could be Crosby rushing the passer out of a two-point stance off the edge, or even dropping back into a zone as a pass defender when the Raiders dig into their blitz packages.
“I mean, could he stand up? He stood up a few times last year,” McDaniels said. “Sometimes we make a little much out of standing up and putting a hand in the ground.”
Make no mistake, though, the primary goal will be to put Crosby in a position to create havoc as a pass rusher.
“Our intent will be to have him maximize the things he does well as many times as we can,” McDaniels said.
Trying to create flexibility
The Raiders have added flexibility and girth to their defensive line with the addition of Chandler Jones, Bilal Nichols, Andrew Billings, Vernon Butler and Kyler Peko and the re-signing of Johnathan Hankins.
They join holdovers Crosby, Cle Ferrell, Malcolm Koonce and Kendal Vickers to form a group McDaniels hopes can be molded to create favorable matchups depending on the opponent.
One week that might be playing primarily out of a 3-4 alignment. The next week that could be using the 4-3 as the base look.
“When you’re trying to say your philosophy is to try to take your strength and try to attack their weakness, you have to have some flexibility to change your scheme,” McDaniels said. “If you didn’t have flexibility, I don’t know how you can match it up from week to week to try to do that.”
To that end, expect the Raiders to spend a lot of time trying to devise ways to be effective in multiple defensive fronts.
“We want to have a chance to do both,” McDaniels said. “It’s all on paper right now, and until we start getting out there and really working and seeing fundamentally what it looks like and how well we can do things, it’s hard to predict what we’re going to say we’re good at in September. I know what we’re going to attempt to get good at, but sometimes what you attempt to get good at and what you actually get good at, they’re not quite the same thing.”
Youth, competition at cornerback
The additions of Rock Ya-Sin, Anthony Averett, Darius Phillips and Crevon LeBlanc — along with returners Trayvon Mullen, Nate Hobbs and Amik Robertson — created a cornerback room with an average age of 25.8.
“It’s a young group,” McDaniels said. “We’ve got a young secondary.”
Of that group, Ya-Sin, Mullen, Averett, Phillips and LeBlanc are set to become free agents after the 2022 season, and Robertson is fighting to re-establish himself as an asset.
In other words, expect a fierce battle for starting and prominent roles.
“There’s a lot of skill in that room … and they all want to carve out roles,” McDaniels said. “Great competition and eager to fight for spots.”
Maxx Crosby file
Position: Defensive end
College: Eastern Michigan
Draft: Fourth round, 106th overall, by the Raiders in 2019
Key stat: 10 sacks in 2019, 7 in 2020, 8 in 2021
Striking it rich: Crosby signed a four-year contract in March for a reported $98.98 million ($53 million guaranteed).