ALAMEDA – Clelin Ferrell likes to go fishing. In real life and on the football field.
That's why the Raiders defensive end celebrates a sack as if he has hooked a prize catch and is reeling it right in.
The Clemson product caught a ton in college, but probably not enough in his first year as a pro. The No. 4 overall pick was a quality run defender but didn't do enough as a pass rusher to honor the draft slot's sky-high expectations.
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The defensive end’s first NFL campaign wasn't bad by any stretch. It was, as head coach Jon Gruden said Monday, only so-so. There were good moments. There were times where his impact was hard to find on the stat sheet or otherwise. There’s context behind all of that fans often ignore when assessing the first-round NFL draft pick.
Ferrell’s a smart guy, mature beyond his years and always armed with great perspective. He’s never going to sugarcoat it. He also never stops trying to get better.
“It was a large learning experience that was mainly a lot of fun," Ferrell said. "There were ups and downs, good times and bad times, but the main thing was learning to push through obstacles during the entire season. That was something I enjoyed learning how to do, and it showed me I need to grow up in a few areas.”
He’ll use this rookie season as the foundation upon which he hopes to build a skyscraper.
“I’m excited for the offseason because when I come back, it’s going to be [as] a completely different player,” Ferrell said. “You probably won’t even recognize me. Seriously. I’m excited.”
The Clemson product has a checklist of things to improve and work on during his first professional offseason, where new pros normally make the largest jump. While he didn’t detail the to-do list, it surely isn’t about beating Nick Bosa’s stats or out-doing Josh Allen. Ferrell and his coaches are focus on improving his unique skill set and becoming the complete, steady three-down defensive end the Raiders need him to be.
“It’s about building on everything,” Ferrell said. “I know what I have to work on. I talked to the coaches. I know what I have to improve on. I also want to get guys around to buy into that mindset, too. I hope guys on the team understand that the group of guys we have is special. Our future is bright. If we work out together, we should come back a whole different breed.”
Gruden believes narrowing Ferrell's focus should improve results overall.
“I think he played pretty well,” Gruden said. “I think he had [4.5] sacks, recovered a fumble [vs. Denver in the season finale], batted down some balls, played good against the run.
“We asked him to do way too much early in this season. We had him playing inside quite a bit. … He didn’t do a lot of that at Clemson. So, I think next year when he becomes more of a full-time defensive end acclimated to the scheme better, I think he’ll show even more and more improvement.”
Gruden’s right. Ferrell was asked to play inside a great deal early in the 2019 season after playing the edge almost exclusively in college. That expanded role may have taken Ferrell out of his element just as he was trying to get used to the pro game.
The Raiders started keeping him outside right about when he got sick in London. I mean, really sick. Like, carry a barf bag around sick. That kept him out in Week 5 versus Chicago and took 15 pounds off his frame.
“I had never missed a game due to an illness, but that was terrible,” Ferrell said. “I was going to try to play through it. I thought rest would do it, but it really sat me down. That was tough because it didn’t just affect me for that game. It stuck with me for upcoming games because I lost so much weight. It was a test and a learning experience for sure.”
Ferrell hopes to take everything learned from his rookie year and make a greater impact during his sophomore campaign. His run play’s already good, but the Raiders need more from him as a pass rusher after a year with 4.5 sacks and just 26 total pressures.
Ferrell knows that and has vowed to improve. Team success is his lone value metric, and he believes this defensive line can be dominant and help win more games in the near future.
“Yes, we did better and we improved over last year, but it still wasn’t good enough,” Ferrell said. “As a defensive line, we made significant strides in sacks and run defense. We were better but are nowhere close to our potential. I hope that guys see that. I’m going to be sure that guys see that we have to get better and take it to the league next year.”