EMU's Maxx Crosby, UM's Maurice Hurst bring the heat on Raiders' defense
Allen Park — As the Oakland Raiders prepare for a future in Las Vegas, a couple defensive linemen from Washtenaw County colleges are along for the ride.
And by the way Raiders coach Jon Gruden talked Wednesday about Eastern Michigan rookie Maxx Crosby and Michigan second-year tackle Maurice Hurst, the pair could be longtime cornerstones for the rising franchise.
Both players could fit in the Vegas scene, since both have made names for themselves on reality TV.
When Amazon chronicled the 2017 Michigan season in “All or Nothing,” Hurst’s Uber driving earned him plenty of screen time. With HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this preseason, Crosby broke his hand during an exhibition game and then played with a club cast on it, drawing praise from his coaches.
Crosby, in particular, has impressed this year on the stat sheet, and even more so in his head coach’s unique metrics heading into Sunday’s home game against the Lions.
When asked Wednesday about Crosby, Gruden gushed like he would about Gruden's Grinders like J.J. Watt during his near-decade of calling games for ESPN on "Monday Night Football."
“He’s got what I call a ‘factor grade,’” Gruden said. “He may not get all the sacks, but he hits the quarterback, he bats down balls, he makes great effort plays. He never really seems to get tired.
“I really think we have something here in Crosby. Thank God we drafted him.”
Crosby had sacks in consecutive games earlier this month against Chicago in his first career start and then at Green Bay. Though the streak ended in Sunday’s 27-24 loss at Houston, Crosby had a career-high six tackles, including two for a loss, and forced his second fumble of the season.
“You could say he’s been as impressive as any of our rookies,” Gruden said. “I think you’ll be impressed with him when you see him.”
Crosby put himself on the NFL map in Ypsilanti at Eastern, where he had 20 sacks in three seasons. His star rose at the combine, where he was in the top five at nearly every drill for edge rushers.
Crosby, a fourth-round pick, and Kansas City second-year offensive lineman Andrew Wylie are the only Eastern Michigan players on active rosters.
The Raiders (3-4) are lining Crosby outside of the tackles on both sides of the defensive line, while Hurst is part of a rotation of defensive tackles with P.J. Hall and Johnathan Hankins.
Projected as a first-round talent at Michigan, Hurst fell to the third pick of the fifth round in the 2018 draft because of a heart condition discovered at the combine.
Hurst said the same irregularity was found during his time at Michigan and he was cleared to play. His rookie output showed the Raiders might have one of the steals of that draft.
Hurst impressed as a rookie, leading the Raiders with four of the team’s 13 sacks, tying for 10th on the rookie sack list. He made 31 tackles and his Pro Football Focus tackling grade of 77.7 led the Raiders.
Ironically, Hurst’s strong rookie season might’ve aided a former Michigan State player, allaying teams’ concerns.
Montez Sweat, an ex-Spartan who finished his college career at Mississippi State, was still drafted in the first round by Washington despite a heart condition found at the combine.
As for Hurst, the Michigan product could see plenty of old teammate Graham Glasgow if he is healthy for the Lions (3-3-1). An injured back put Glasgow out early in Sunday’s 31-26 win against the New York Giants and caused him to miss practice Wednesday.
Hurst has taken about half of his more than 200 snaps this season on the left side of the center, matching up with the right guard — which is usually Glasgow for Detroit.
Hurst, the former Michigan team MVP and consensus All-American, also practices against a couple Wolverines: lineman Kyle Kalis is on the practice squad and the Raiders added Erik Magnuson to the center mix on Wednesday after he played guard and tackle in Ann Arbor.
Hurst, who calls himself the “Best Uber Driver In The Country” on his Twitter profile, also is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Crossover Into Business program for active or recently retired professional athletes.
This season, the business hasn’t been as good as of late for Hurst, who has 10 tackles. He has not recorded a stat in Oakland’s last two games, and has played in less than 40% of the Raiders’ defensive snaps in each.
His two sacks keyed a 24-21 win against Chicago in Oakland, with the Washtenaw pair totaling four this season. The Raiders have already equaled last year’s sack total through seven games.
“We need that inside pass rush,” Gruden said. “And he’s one of our better inside pass rushers. We like him. He’s a quality kid, he really is.”
Lions at Raiders
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. Sunday, Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
Records: Lions 3-3-1, Raiders 3-4
Line: Oakland by 2
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.