HENDERSON, Nev. — Maxx Crosby, the Raiders’ stud edge rusher, was amped on the sidelines dressed in white, celebrating the defensive stop he orchestrated. Some of that taunting energy was directed at the coach on the sidelines dressed in red, Kyle Shanahan.
“I made a play and I was hype,” Crosby said, “and I’m talking s— to Kyle.”
You know Shanahan. He isn’t backing down. He had some words for Crosby. And when the Raiders’ 6-foot-5, 255-pound Pro Bowler started jogging over towards the coach, Shanahan went out to meet him in the middle of the field.
This is the energy we’d been waiting for. The intensity of joint practice. The civil animosity of 49ers–Raiders. Of course, no one could’ve expected the 49ers coach to be the one taking on the star of the Raiders’ defense. But here we were. Let’s go.
Crosby’s helmet was off when they finally got face-to-face. The media was stationed in Siberia, so no chance to read the lips. Just had to rely on body language and the visible energy of this potential explosion.
“I think everyone would hopefully know I’m smart enough to never try to fight someone like that,” Shanahan said.
It was all love Thursday in Day 1 of the joint practice between formerly sworn enemies. It was a fitting feel for a day when Jimmy Garoppolo was the center of attention, back on the field against players he once led to the cusp of a championship. Twice. Christian McCaffrey, Fred Warner, Brock Purdy — they were all smiles talking about chopping it up with their former quarterback. Pre-snap, the 49ers’ defense was in Garoppolo’s ear with some friendly fire, just like old times. The only one missing was Nick Bosa.
“It was fun. It was fun,” Garoppolo said. “First play, Dre (Greenlaw) was talking. He got things going right away. But those are my brothers. I love those guys. So, we had a good time out there competing.”
Both teams are still in figure-themselves-out mode and too focused for the fireworks that often come during these joint sessions, where teams are so thrilled to finally get after it against new competition that it can spill over. But the amount of talent on the field produced a mutual respect that influenced the aura.
Perhaps no better example of the spirit of Thursday was the drills between Crosby and Trent Williams. A peak pass rusher against elite pass protection. Williams looked ready for every Crosby move, his quick feet and ability to get low and get leverage, despite being 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, making him seemingly impossible to get around. Williams held up well against Crosby, whose explosiveness, strength and quickness is a handful for most linemen.
“We were getting after it and we were chopping it up after as well,” Crosby said. “He’s best in the game, so me and him, we had a couple of one-on-ones and a couple team reps against each other, and that’s what it’s all about. I want to go against the best, like we talked about. I want to be the best in the league. I know he’s literally the best in the league. So yeah, just being able to get those reps and get better is what football is about.”
Warner, the 49ers’ chief instigator, said he thought his team left some meat on the intensity bone. So perhaps Friday will be more animated. But Thursday was mostly good vibes. Shanahan actually apologized to Crosby for Crosby’s meeting with the 49ers leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft.
“He’s as good as it gets,” Shanahan said, “and I wanted to apologize to him because … we were kind of jerks to him in our interview when he came out of college, and he’s really one of the coolest dudes I’ve been around or seen, and he’s one of the best players in this league. So it’s cool to catch up with him.”
Said Crosby: “And I went up to him after the play he was like, ‘Yeah, man, I feel like an a—— about our interview we had with you in 2019.’ And I remember it because Kris Kocurek was in there, John Lynch and Shanahan.”
As the story goes, per Shanahan, it was Kocurek’s first draft interviews after the 49ers hired him as their defensive line coach in 2019. But Kocurek was operating under a philosophy a bit different from the 49ers’ way. His approach was to try and rattle the prospect by attacking them a little bit. Be a little blunt. A little harsh.
And Crosby was the first one up.
“I remember Kocurek was in there going through the meeting,” Crosby recalled, “and he was like, ‘ALRIGHT!’ He was yelling, but not mad, you know what I mean? His energy was crazy, but in a good way.”
“John was trying to touch his leg,” Shanahan said, “like ‘Kris, chill out a little bit.’ And after he was like … ‘Sorry, my last coach really wanted me to do it that way.’ And he did it to, like, the coolest dude. So we always tell him that was all Kris, not us.”
Crosby loved it, which makes sense in hindsight. It was unique, as he remembered it, but he called it “a great meeting.” He said his dad was a loud, get-after-you type. And Chris Creighton, his college coach at Eastern Michigan. And Rod Marinelli, his defensive line coach with the Raiders his first two seasons.
So you already know how Crosby responded to Kocurek turning up the heat.
“He was a stud,” Shanahan said. “He didn’t care at all. He did not waver. He didn’t. He handled it as good as anyone could handle it.”
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(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)