Alameda, Calif. — 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 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.
Harbaugh to return
John Harbaugh will return to coach the Ravens next season, and the team says it’s working on an extension beyond 2019. Harbaugh, the brother of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, took over as Baltimore’s coach in 2008 and has taken the team to the playoffs six times, winning the Super Bowl in 2012.
The Ravens didn’t reach the postseason the past three years, however, and are striving to end that streak with two games left in the regular season.
Regardless of how Baltimore (8-6) finishes, Harbaugh will be back to finish the final year of his current contract.
In a statement Friday, the Ravens organization wrote: “John Harbaugh will continue as our head coach for the 2019 season, and he and we are working on an extension to his existing contract.”
Raiders consider San Francisco
The Raiders have had talks with the San Francisco Giants about playing home games at AT&T Park next season.
The Giants issued a statement confirming the Raiders have expressed “initial interest” in playing in San Francisco in 2019.
The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas in 2020 but have no lease for next year.
They had been in talks about renewing in Oakland before city officials sued the team over its planned move. The Raiders didn’t comment on the talks with the Giants.
The Giants said many details needed to be worked out before a deal could be finalized.
Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa will miss his second straight game because of an ankle injury.
... The Bills signed quarterback Matt Barkley to a two-year contract extension, securing what’s been an unsettled backup spot behind rookie Josh Allen.
... The Associated Press reported injured Dolphins running back Frank Gore has decided against retirement and wants to play a 15th NFL season next year.
NFL Week 16
Washington at Tennessee, 4:30 (NFL)
Baltimore at L.A. Chargers, 8:20 (NFL)
Minnesota at Detroit, 1 (Fox)
Atlanta at Carolina, 1
Houston at Philadelphia, 1
N.Y. Giants at Indianapolis, 1
Green Bay at N.Y. Jets, 1
Buffalo at New England, 1
Cincinnati at Cleveland, 1
Jacksonville at Miami, 1
Tampa Bay at Dallas, 1
L.A. Rams at Arizona, 4
Chicago at San Francisco, 4
Pittsburgh. at New Orleans, 4:25 (CBS)
K.C. at Seattle, 8:20 (NBC)
Denver at Oakland 8:15 (ESPN)