Another day of practice is in the books for the Oakland Raiders and the team will be welcoming the Los Angeles Rams into town on Wednesday. The preseason is less than a week away and the team is hoping to work out some kinks with Sean McVay’s squad. The Raiders made a lot of moves in the offseason so it’s easy for returning players to get lost in the shuffle. One returning player that has gotten very little fanfare is defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. However, just because he doesn’t get a lot of fanfare, doesn’t mean that head coach Jon Gruden hasn’t taken notice of his skills.
Johnathan Hankins Is ‘Most Improved Player’, Says Jon Gruden
After Tuesday’s practice, Gruden spoke to the media and gave serious praise to the veteran defensive tackle.
[Hankins] has arguably been our most improved player and most impactful defensive lineman so far,” said Gruden. “He’s got much better stamina, he can play hash to hash. I really like where he is, a lot.”
Hankins’ performance has earned him a starting spot next to Justin Ellis on the Raider defensive line and based on Gruden’s comments, that doesn’t seem like that’s going to change. Oakland has some talented depth in Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall behind the starters. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Hurst stole some starts away from Ellis or Hankins. Hankins started his career with the New York Giants and put up a seven sack season in just his second year. That’s very impressive for a defensive tackle. That being said, he never replicated that success in the next four seasons.
Hankins started 14 games for the Raiders in 2018 and didn’t get a single sack. Now that he has a full year under Paul Guenther’s system under his belt, perhaps he’s coming on a lot more strong. A consistent interior pass rush would mean really good things for the Raiders. Justin Ellis only has 0.5 sacks over a five-year career, so don’t expect much production from him there. Hopefully, Gruden’s words ring true and Hankins has a huge comeback of a season.
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Nicolas Morrow Impressing the Coach
The Raiders added two talented linebackers during the offseason in Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall. They also brought back veteran Tahir Whitehead. Based on the team’s first depth chart, those three men will be the starting linebacker unit for the team. This unit looks much more talented and solid than it has in year’s past. Plus, it seems like Gruden is excited about some of the depth they have with third-year linebacker Nicolas Morrow.
“Morrow, to me, has stood out,” said Gruden. “Morrow is really playing well. He’s finding the ball and he is fast and I’m really impressed with Nick.”
Morrow hasn’t seen consistent time as a starter over his first two years and that probably won’t change this year. Though it does seem like he’ll get plenty of time in a backup role. Burfict and Marshall have dealt with injuries in their careers, so having depth is important. Look for Morrow to make some plays during the season.