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Graney: Raiders tight end finds happiness after bumpy rookie year

He has come a long ways from the rookie who was downright abused those first few practices in pads last season. From the one whose indoctrination involved finding himself on the ground a lot.

If you remember, Raiders tight end Michael Mayer was welcomed to the NFL by Maxx Crosby in the most physical of manners.

Taught the difference between the league and college.

Taught how difficult it is to block one of the world’s best edge rushers.

Um, to block at all, really.

A different attitude

But experience looks good on Mayer, who spoke this week about his struggles as a first-year player and how he overcame them.

How there were some days when he didn’t feel like coming to the facility last year. How he has been able to flip a script and find joy in the game again.

“Yeah, my mentality, my attitude this year — nothing wrong with last year — but it’s just different this year,” Mayer said. “It’s different. I’m way happier. I’m way more positive. I love to be out here on this field. I love to play football, man. It’s what I do. It’s my job.

“It’s time to dig down and play some ball, win some ball games and do what I need to do for this team. Rookie year is over. That’s way in the past. I’ve already reflected on it. I’ve already put it behind me. I don’t even think about it anymore.”

Don’t discount the coaching change in this respect. Not one bit.

Guys are far looser under Antonio Pierce than they were under Josh McDaniels. They’re unafraid to make a mistake. They’re celebrating touchdowns in drills at organized team activities like they might in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

It’s apparent in almost every way, this shift in perspective. I don’t know how many games the Raiders will ultimately win under Pierce, but he definitely brought a new and improved vibe to the locker room.

That extends to a player like Mayer.

He is faster now at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, maybe the fastest he has been. Gone is the foot injury that cost him the final three games of last season. No soreness. Mayer feels great.

It took some time, though. Took a while before everything clicked. Took a good eight or nine games before he understood what in the world he was doing, especially when it came to blocking at this level.

Mayer caught just 27 balls for 304 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, pedestrian by his and most others’ standards.

But he says the offense under new coordinator Luke Getsy is simpler than the one he learned as a rookie. It should also feature tight ends more given the team’s talent at the position.

Making the call

The Raiders drafted tight end Brock Bowers this year with the 13th overall pick, a former Georgia star who was one of the most versatile and talented players in college football. He can do it all.

But before the Raiders made the selection, they called Mayer to inform him of their plans. It was the team’s way of saying it still believed in him. Its way of saying that Mayer and Bowers could be a formidable duo in Getsy’s scheme.

“I mean, it was a whole new coaching staff coming in, too, so that was huge for me,” Mayer said. “I was just kind of getting to know them, getting to learn the offense, getting to know their personalities, things like that and then that happened. So, it was good. It was good to hear from them.”

Mayer smiled a lot this week. Laughed. Was even more engaging that usual. He’s discovered joy in playing again.

“Whatever I went through last year, it was a long year. There’s no doubt about it,” Mayer said. “I’m done thinking about it, man. I’m looking forward to Year 2. I mean, that’s the end of it.”

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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