HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Rookie tight end Michael Mayer got knocked down.
Again. And again.
It was his first day in pads earlier this month, and Las Vegas Raiders pass-rush specialist Maxx Crosby was showing him what the NFL was all about.
“I got embarrassed,” Mayer said this week. “That was definitely my ‘welcome to the NFL moment.’”
Mayer, drafted early in the second round, showed he learned a lot from that day.
He worked his way into the starting lineup in Saturday's 34-17 preseason victory over the Los Angeles Rams and is in a battle with eight-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler Austin Hooper for the position.
“You can’t really be physically tough unless you’re mentally tough,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. “He had an experience (with Crosby) that some would call fun, some would call educational, some would call not-so good. But that’s part of the NFL. I’d rather it happen in a practice than a game. I thought his response that day was really good. Didn’t let it get him down, didn’t walk around with his head down.”
The Raiders targeted Mayer as a high priority during this year's draft and traded up three spots to take him 35th overall.
Some projections had Mayer going in the first round and as the initial tight end off the board, but watched two others go before him while waiting an extra day.
“Was I a little mad? Draft night, maybe,” Mayer said. "But the next day, I woke up, got drafted by a great organization and now I’m here in a great offense with a great coach and we’re just trying to get better every day.”
The Raiders certainly had a need at the position after trading Darren Waller in the offseason to the New York Giants. Like Waller, who twice has had more than 1,000 yards receiving, Mayer is known for his pass-catching skills.
He set Notre Dame career records for a tight end with 180 receptions for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns. When the Fighting Irish played BYU last season at Allegiant Stadium — Mayer's new pro home — he caught 11 passes for 118 yards and two TDs.
It's the blocking part of his game that is more in question, and one reason Crosby didn't let up on the youngster in that early practice.
“It’s been a challenge since the first day of camp,” Mayer said. "That’s something I’m going into practice every single day trying to get better at. Try not to think so much, trying to learn from my mistakes because the last thing I want to do is go out on the line and have to think so much to where I’m playing slower than I usually play.”
McDaniels said he has seen Mayer's growth in that area and all parts of playing the position. Perhaps Mayer's greatest challenge has been trying to learn all the play calls and the verbiage involved in what is a complicated offense, but McDaniels said that isn't unique to him.
“If you’re too simple, you’re going to get your butt kicked, so there needs to be an element of sophistication involved with the game to some degree," McDaniels said. "We’ve had to navigate that with every rookie class we’ve had on both sides of the ball.”
Mayer has a valuable resource to tap into regarding how to handle the transition to professional sports. His cousin, Luke Maile is a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds and an eight-year major league veteran.
Mayer described Maile, who is 10 years older, as like a brother, having growing up watching him play high school sports in Kentucky. The two text frequently.
“He was in my shoes at one point,” Mayer said. “I know it’s different and he was in the minor leagues, but he’s been helping me tremendously through that.”
Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler said Thursday there was no update on running back Josh Jacobs' status. Jacobs did not participate in training camp because he hasn't signed the franchise tag offer or agreed to a one-year deal separate of the tag.
When asked whether Jacobs could be traded, Ziegler didn't offer any insight.
“Organizationally, that’s nothing that we would ever address on any player,” Ziegler said. “There’s no advantage to doing that, so we’re just going to keep pushing forward. We’re focused on our situation here — putting the roster together the best way we can to field a competitive team.”
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