Notes: On pick-six, Mack was 'like a tiger playing with a ball'

Notes: On pick-six, Mack was 'like a tiger playing with a ball'

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack made several key plays in Sunday’s victory over Carolina. The Raiders edge rusher had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and scored a touchdown in that one.

His strip sack secured victory late in the fourth quarter, where he worked through a double team, avoided a chip block and got to the quarterback.

“Great desire,” head coach Jack Del Rio said during his Monday press conference. “He just collapsed that tackle, really nullified the chip just by powering that guy and took the ball away and then recovered it. It was a great play.”

It wasn’t the only one. His interception returned for a touchdown was also top-flight, and showcased great agility for someone Mack’s size.

“That was a great play right before halftime when he reached up (and intercepted Cam Newton’s pass),” Del Rio said. “It was like the reflexes, like a tiger playing with a ball. Somebody threw a ball, he just snatched it and goes in and scores and jumps rather easily. I know I couldn’t get halfway up that wall. He jumped into The Black Hole. That was pretty cool.”

Edwards Jr. still expected back: Raiders defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. has been out a long time. He got hurt in the preseason opener and hasn’t played since. The team originally expected him to return off injured reserve by now, but the second-year pro hasn’t practiced due to the injury.

Del Rio said the Raiders still expect him back. They can afford to be patient while sitting atop the AFC at 9-2.

“Until he gets cleared it’s just kind of wait and see,” Del Rio said.

Injury update: Cornerback David Amerson didn’t play on Sunday due to a knee injury. There was some uncertainty about his health leading up to kickoff and the Raiders chose to be cautious. Del Rio hopes Amerson can return for next week’s game against Buffalo. He did not provide updates on DJ Hayden, who injured his hamstring in Sunday’s game.

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.