From the Bay Area to the Nevada desert, Jon Gruden and the Raiders' odyssey to find a formidable pass rush has carried on.
One of the Raiders' latest attempts at fortifying the rush came with the offseason signing of Yannick Ngakoue. With Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby likely to man the starting spots on the edge, that leaves two notable names vying for reps in the rotation: former first-round pick Clelin Ferrell and Carl Nassib.
Thus, there will be some competition off the edge as Raiders camp gets underway.
"Ferrell, he's a good player," Gruden told reporters in his Tuesday news conference. "He's unique because he can play right end, he can play left end, he's a good run defender. I think his best pass rush might be inside -- and you saw that against the Jets when we allowed him to do that last year. But certainly, he's going to be competing, he and Carl Nassib, who had a really good spring. They're going to have to earn their snaps, and if you know Cle, you know he will compete. And you probably should count on him being a big part of this."
Nassib is coming off a season in which he had 2.5 sacks and 28 tackles in 14 games (five starts) for the Raiders. It was a drop from his previous two campaigns in Tampa Bay when he had 6.5 and six sacks in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with more starts.
Ferrell, meanwhile, was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft and though he's never achieved the production most would expect from such a lofty draft position, he's been better than his lean numbers suggest. In 11 starts last season, he had just two sacks (both against the aforementioned Jets) and 27 tackles, but produced a 76.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. Nassib earned a 66.1 grade and Crosby just a 57.8 rating.
However, Crosby has led the Raiders in sacks in each of his two seasons, debuting with 10 in 2019 as the fourth-rounder who outshined the fourth overall pick and following it up with seven in 2020.
Regardless of how the grades and statistics play out, the Raiders' rush has been a weakness since 2018 when Gruden took over and Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears.
Since then, the Raiders' 66 sacks rank last in the NFL and their 28.4 points per game are likewise last in that span, per NFL Research. A season ago, Las Vegas' defense was 30th in the league in scoring and 29th in sacks with just 21.
With Gus Bradley in as the new defensive coordinator, Gruden believes rekindling a long simmered pass rush is paramount to overall defensive success.
"I think what's gonna make this defense is go is how we rush the passer," Gruden said. "How it goes up front. And Yannick is a difference maker. I feel him every time I see him on the grass. And Maxx is on the rise."
Gruden also mentioned being impressed by rookie rusher Malcolm Koonce, a third-round pick out of Buffalo -- Mack's alma mater. While visions and hopes of a new Buffalo pass rusher dance through Gruden's head, the team is still attempting to fill the void left by its last Buffalo edge.
With Ngakoue, Crosby and Koonce on Gruden's mind, it's clear that improvement up front continues to be tops on the Raiders' agenda and competition for reps from Nassib and Ferrell awaits in the coming weeks.
"If we can improve up front, I think this defense will be much-improved," Gruden said.