NAPA -- The Raiders, as a whole, appear to be much-improved from a season ago.
Early impressions from training camp are that the offense has the ability to be deadly and that the defense continues to be a work in progress.
But one member leftover from a Raiders defense that struggled a season ago could play a big part in helping that unit turn things around.
Johnathan Hankins showed the ability to get interior push early on in his career, notching seven sacks as a 22-year-old for the New York Giants in 2014. Hankins had a rough 2018, failing to record a sack, something that became a theme for the 2018 Raiders. But head coach Jon Gruden has been encouraged by the new Hankins he has seen in camp.
"We feel like our base defense, with the improvement of Hankins, who might be the most improved player on our team, the addition of (Clelin) Ferrell, you know (Maurice) Hurst -- he had some sacks last year -- and we'll see what happens at the other end position."
By now, you know the stats. The Raiders only recorded 13 sacks last season. Seventeen fewer than the next closest NFL team. As a result, their secondary was picked apart as opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw. Gruden and the Raiders put a premium on trying to improve their pass rush this season, drafting Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby and hoping for further development from Arden Key, P.J. Hall and Hurst.
If Hankins can get back to the player he was early in his career with the Giants, the Raiders will have someone who can rush the passer from the inside, something they lacked last season and appear to be searching for early in camp.
Raiders' pass rush could be buoyed by 'most improved' Johnathan Hankins originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area