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Raiders tap rookies, veterans to plug Mack-sized hole

The Oakland Raiders approach their opener Monday against the Los Angeles Rams following a confusing offseason and training camp.

Jon Gruden will coach his first regular season NFL game in a decade, flanked by two coordinators facing significant summer roster shakeups heading into the 2018 campaign.

Greg Olson returns as Oakland’s offensive coordinator after a stint from 2013-2014. There has been offensive disruption for Olson to work out, mainly in the receiving corps. Michael Crabtree, who had the most receptions (58), third-most receiving yards (618), and most touchdown receptions (8) in 2017, was released in mid-March. And Martavis Bryant, who they traded a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for in April, was waived on September 1.

However, those issues seem minuscule after last week’s huge Khalil Mack trade, which put new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther in an extremely difficult spot.

Guenther knows that life without Khalil Mack will be very different:

“I mean the plan obviously changes when you have a guy like that. It’s like having a great receiver or quarterback, you know? Your plans change with what you got.”

In true coach fashion, Guenther said he is confident that his defensive roster will be able to fill the void left by Mack, even though many people outside of Oakland are highly skeptical:

“We are going to move along with how we’ve been progressing through the spring with the guys that have been here, the guys in training camp that have been working hard. You got to try and put the players you have in the best position to succeed. That’s what I get paid to do, so I’ll try to do that with the guys we have here come Monday night. I like our group.”

He noted the players brought in during the offseason as reasons to be optimistic, whether from the draft, free agency or waivers. The key arrivals are rookies P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst, holdovers Shilique Calhoun and Fadol Brown, and veteran Tank Carradine.

Hall and Key were second and third-round picks this year, respectively, displaying the Raiders confidence in both of them to be impactful players. At 6-foot-1 and 308 pounds, Hall was one of the strongest defensive linemen in college football, and Key has a physical build and the athleticism that most teams covet in an edge rusher. Carradine brings experience to combine with that of Bruce Irvin, who is now the Raiders’ best pass rusher.

Guenther said he plans to get the most out of every member of his defensive unit this season:

“I told the players I am going to utilize every guy in uniform, so don’t think because you are not in the starting lineup or are on the two-deep as a starter you are not going to play in games. I am going to utilize as many, what, 24 or 25 guys, whatever they give me every Sunday.”

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