The forgotten man of the Raiders’ 2020 draft class has actually been one of the most familiar faces at the club’s headquarters in Henderson this offseason. In fact, Tanner Muse has barely set foot outside Las Vegas since landing here last year as a third-round pick out of Clemson.
But the 24-year-old linebacker has about had it with all the behind-the-scenes work he’s been doing as he makes his way back from the toe injury in training camp that subsequently required season-ending surgery.
As he closes in on a full recovery, he’s counting the days until he can get back on the field and deliver everything the Raiders envisioned when they selected him last April with the 100th pick. All of which ran through his head when he recently got in some on-field work in Henderson.
“It was great just to feel that grass again and see it painted and be able to run outside,” said Muse, who is on target to be a full participant when the Raiders resume football work. “I’m super excited just to get back out there with my teammates and show that I can compete and show that I belong.”
The delayed debut is the result of sesamoiditis, a painful ailment that occurs when the tendons attached to the two sesamoid bones in the big toe become inflamed. The injury traces back to Muse’s career at Clemson, although he was always able to grit his teeth and play through whatever pain resulted.
“I just kept on keeping on,” said Muse. “I always felt if it ever got to a point where it was really hurting, hurting, I’d address it. But it was never at that point.”
After taking time off immediately after piling up 54 tackles and four interceptions in his last year with the Tigers, Muse thought the issue was completely behind him. The athletic freak show the 6-foot-2, 227-pounder delivered at the NFL scouting combine while blazing a 4.41 40-yard dash was proof he was humming on all cylinders.
But almost immediately after beginning his first NFL training camp, Muse knew something wasn’t right. The constant and violent force of planting his left foot while trying to match up with NFL players re-triggered the sesamoiditis. Even to the most casual observer, Muse looked considerably off from the ball-hawking player he was with the Tigers.
The Raiders’ coaching staff, realizing the rookie’s tentative play was a physical issue rather than the result of a young player making the move from college safety to NFL linebacker, approached Muse about shutting things down to get him healthy.
That set off a series of remedies designed to alleviate the problem, all of which proved unsuccessful. Finally, a frustrated Muse opted for surgery to remove one of the sesamoid bones in his left big toe.
Just like that, a young player the Raiders were counting on to have a big impact on special teams was removed from the equation. While Muse was still able to study and learn and observe all the various nuances of his new linebacker position, the practical application of turning classroom work into actual on-field reps was completely lost.
Muse stayed connected as best he could, reporting to work every day for his post-surgery rehabilitation and diving as much as possible into the playbook. To make up for the on-field time he was losing, Muse doubled down by working closely with the Raiders’ strength, conditioning and nutritional staffs. The goal was to be as mentally and physically advanced as possible by the time he was cleared to return.
That said, it was gut-wrenching for him not to play
“Every position, every spot is important in the NFL,” Muse said. “The more you’re in the league, the more you realize it. You don’t have 120 guys like you do in college where it’s rotate, rotate, rotate, next man up. We have to use all our spots to our advantage and to not be there for the team kind of killed me.”
The Raiders team Muse returns to will look different than the one he left. On the coaching staff, Gus Bradley replaced Paul Guenther as the defensive coordinator and brought with him Richard Smith as linebackers coach.
After getting to know his new coaches, he senses a familiar vibe
“I like coach Smith, he’s very old-school, which is very similar to where I’m from,” Muse said. “Smash-mouth football and just being able to know your assignments, know your keys, be athletic on the field and cover people up.”
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Starters: Nick Kwiatkoski. Cory Littleton, Nicholas Morrow
Reserves: Asmar Bilal, Tanner Muse. James Onwualu, Javin White.