ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Shortly after being drafted, Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst received a phone call from Jon Gruden. The conversation didn’t last long but turned out to be prophetic in several ways.
Gruden informed Hurst of the renovation plan for Oakland’s defense that was being mapped out by him and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and how much they wanted the former Michigan star to be at the hub of that plan. Gruden also didn’t mince words when he explained that he wanted Hurst to be as big of a presence in the locker room as the team hoped he would be on the field.
Hurst has managed to do both fairly well, providing a silver lining to a season in which the Raiders defense has otherwise gone nowhere.
“He’s grown leaps and bounds,” Guenther said Friday. “We knew we drafted a good player when we took him and he has not disappointed. He’s done a good job in both the run and the pass. He’s been able to push the pocket some on third down, so he’s going to be a great player for us.”
Oakland is 26th in total defense behind a pass rush that has generated only 12 sacks through 14 games. Hurst has four of them, the most by a Raiders rookie since Khalil Mack had four in 2014.
Whether Hurst can add to his total is uncertain. He has not practiced this week because of a lingering ankle injury that landed him on the inactive list in Week 14.
A strong finish to the season, Hurst said, will be key to getting a jump on 2019 as he and fellow rookie P.J. Hall try to form the foundation of the Raiders defensive line.
“We’ve done a pretty decent job this year so we just have to try to build on things,” Hurst said. “These last couple of games will be big for us. Just keep developing, have a big offseason and get ready for next year.”
The Raiders were fortunate Hurst fell into their laps. A consensus All-American during his senior season with the Wolverines, Hurst was projected to be a first-round draft pick until being sent home from the scouting combine after tests revealed a heart condition.
Hurst was given medical clearance but it didn’t prevent the other 31 teams from passing on him. When he was selected with the 140th overall pick, the Raiders were widely criticized by several general managers around the league.
It’s a gamble that has paid off for Oakland.
In addition to leading the Raiders in sacks, Hurst is fourth among all NFL rookie defensive linemen with 31 tackles.
Guenther and Gruden both have praised Hurst for his impact in the locker room as well. Hurst, in turn, credits Gruden for giving him an early heads-up of what to expect.
“I had a good sense of what was going on and what we had on our roster and what we were trying to build,” Hurst said. “Sometimes you want to take a back seat but that wasn’t really a position I was in. It’s something I’ve taken pride in and what I want to continue to do. He didn’t want me to be a normal rookie.”
Notes: CB Daryl Worley (shoulder) missed his second straight day of practice. . CB Gareon Conley (concussion), center Rodney Hudson (ankle/knee) and TE Lee Smith (back) were limited.