Khalil Mack earns respect, surprise visit from all-time NFL great


Khalil Mack earns respect, surprise visit from all-time NFL great

Khalil Mack passed a somewhat familiar face while walking to a Raiders team meeting. A moustache caused him to do a double take.

“Was that…Dick Butkus?”

Questions stormed through Mack’s mind. Why would the legendary Chicago Bears linebacker be in Alameda? Was the feared Hall of Famer, one of the best defenders in NFL history, a guest speaker during the offseason program? Head coach Jack Del Rio often used creative tactics this time of year. Maybe that was it.

Then Mack walked into the auditorium. Fellow players were seated, and team cameras were focused on him. Something was clearly up.

Mack was surprised to be the man of the hour, given the professional Dick Butkus award by its namesake, who flew from Los Angeles for the event. It’s given to the best professional and collegiate linebacker, and Mack was runner up for the amateur honor at the University of Buffalo.

“It was a pleasant surprise man,” Mack said Thursday, a day after the presentation. “In college I wanted to win it, and being like I won it now, it’s a surreal thing.”

Whether Mack plays linebacker anymore is debatable, but there’s no doubt he’s an elite defender. He was named a 2015 All-Pro at linebacker and defensive end, and was the NFL’s defensive player of the year last season.

He’s physical, immensely productive and excellent under pressure. Stats bear that out. So does the eye test.

Turn on last year’s tape and be wowed, from his interception returned for a touchdown to four fourth-quarter sacks including a strip that beat Carolina. Then there’s the never-fail run defense, which would make an old school football man proud watching.

Butkus is one of those. Most professionals receive the Butkus award without fanfare, but the legend wanted to do this one in person.

“It was awesome. Dick Butkus had his people call and ask if he could come and present,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I said, ‘If you’re coming, absolutely. Love to have you.’ It was a big honor to have one of the legends in Dick Butkus come himself and acknowledge a great player for us and a guy who was defensive player of the year last year.”

The presentation’s initial focus was on the presenter.

Butkus highlights flashed across a big screen, showing a Monster of the Midway at his ferocious best.

“Dick Butkus highlights are crazy,” Mack said.

They feature intimidation through violence, an acutle aggesssive style that were effective yet wouldn’t fly in today’s NFL.

“If you could grab somebody’s helmet like that now, oh man. That would be lovely,” Mack said with a smile. “That would be lovely, man.”

A reporter also reminded him it’d be a fine. “I know, right?” Mack said. “That’d be a lot of money.”

Mack hasn't ever been fined. He has found a way to intimidate through proficiency, to excel in this era without the bravado typically accompanying such stature. His rarely wavers, but leadership has become more vocal with seasons gone by. Check out the peer pressure he applied to keep players out of trouble during summer break, telling them not to throw away a lottery ticket.

There’s no chance Mack will do so. He doesn’t take true breaks, preferring to stay in work mode during offseason lulls. He typically takes a few days after the season. He won’t go find some place exotic before training camp begins July 28, even when most others will.

“Everybody’s talking about what they might do, but I doubt it," Mack said, laughing. "I’m going to stay away from the beach. I grew up in Florida, I had 18 years to go out and walk on the sand, the beach and stuff. So, I’m over it. I’m going to be working.”

Aldon Smith back in custody after police say he violated restraining order


Aldon Smith back in custody after police say he violated restraining order

SAN FRANCISCO — Former Oakland Raiders player Aldon Smith surrendered to police Friday on charges he violated a domestic violence restraining order.

San Francisco police said the 28-year-old Smith turned himself and was booked on three misdemeanor charges of violating a court order to stay away from a domestic violence victim.

Earlier this month, Smith pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and other charges and a judge issued a protective order prohibiting him from contacting the victim.

Police said Smith violated the restraining order earlier this week.

Smith’s attorney, Joshua Bentley, did not return a voicemail message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Raiders released the linebacker days after his arrest on the domestic violence charges.

He had been on the suspended list since late 2015 for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”