Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack looking for more than just sacks


Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack looking for more than just sacks

DENVER – Khalil Mack’s goal of getting 30 sacks in a season seems far-fetched. That’s why he didn’t shout it from mountaintops. Quarterback Derek Carr, however, was his megaphone. Carr mentioned the magic number was first brought up in training camp, and 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year didn’t swat it away.

That sum is crazy high, well over Michael Strahan’s record 22.5 in 2001. He’s certainly capable of breaking a 15-year old record, maybe more. Putting limits on the powerful Raiders edge rusher seems foolish after three excellent seasons.

When Mack beats a blocker (or two, or three) and makes a beeline for the quarterback, he isn’t thinking about adding to the tally. He wants the ball.

Not saying sacks are easy, but taking the quarterback down isn’t entirely satisfying. He wants a souvenir.

“You’re always looking for turnovers when you get after the quarterback, but there’s been a particular emphasis for me this year,” Mack told NBC Sports Bay Area Friday. “Sacks are great, but you want to get the ball out.”

Mack has eight forced fumbles his career, with five coming last season. Several came in key moments, including a strip sack of Carolina’s Cam Newton – through a triple team, no less – that iced a Raiders victory.

“The goal is to change the game however you can,” Mack said. “The best way for me to do that is to create turnovers. That’s the objective on every snap.”

That also fits his mantra, to win “by any means.”

Denver knows all too well how Mack can destroy a game. He has eight sacks, four quarterback hits and 16 other pressures in his last four game against the Broncos. He had two sacks and eight pressures in a 2016 home win on Sunday Night Football.

Mack ruined a calm Denver day in 2015 with five sacks, including a strip sack that led to a safety.

He’ll try and do so again Sunday at Sports Authority Field in the Raiders’ AFC West opener.

Mack will face a familiar foe most times. Former Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson is now in Denver, and the pair will square off as they did in so many Napa and Alameda practices. Watson has struggled some to start the season, and will surely get help trying to slow Mack down in a crucial contest for both teams.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Mack said in a conference call with Denver reporters. “I remember at practice I’d go against him all of the time and he’s one of my favorite players to go against. It’s going to be a big battle.”

There will be a big battle waged while Mack’s on the sideline. Broncos edge rusher Von Miller, someone capable of breaking the NFL single-season sack record or Mack’s white whale of 30.

While the pair used different means to achieve the same end, Mack can help prep Raiders offensive line for a trying day at the office.

“We have a luxury in that department in that we have No. 52 on our team, who gives us a pretty darn good look at that kind of stuff in training camp and OTAs,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “Really talented guys that give us looks on the show team and such as well. We feel like we have a good plan. We excited to go out and execute it.”

Mack and Miller are not carbon copies.

“Von has a hell of a get off and he can bend that corner like nobody else in the league,” Mack said. “Kudos to him for that. I’m more of a physical guy in that approach. Not taking that away from him, but that’s what I view as the most (different).”

No elite pass rusher is exactly the same, which is why Miller hosted a pass-rush summit at Stanford this offseason. Miller, former Bronco DeMarcus Ware and Mack ended up being teachers, not students, even with other top edge guys like Olivier Vernon and Vic Beasley in attendance. Mack does things, however, that can’t be copied.

“Some of the stuff he was doing, just can’t be done by others,” Miller said. “Just plain and simple. Just pick up offensive linemen and just run straight through them, that stuff just, it can be done but not the way that Khalil does it.”

Neither can Miller’s speed and bendability.

They’re different, but Mack has still learned a lot by watching Miller.

“Just watching him on film these past few years has taught me a lot about rushing the pass,” Mack said. “Just looking at him get off and looking at things that he looks at and learning. This past summer with him and DeMarcus Ware and all of those other guys that were out there, it helped with my assets as a pass rusher.”

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

NaVorro Bowman hasn’t been a Raider long. The inside linebacker visited the team’s training complex Monday morning, signed a one-year, $3 million contract that afternoon and was on the practice field a few hours later.

Bowman’s in something of a rush. His new team plays the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Bowman plans to face them.

That’ll take a crash course in Raiders defense. There’s new terminology to learn and roles to master, even if he hones on a specific package.

It won’t be easy. Even a perfect week might come up short with but one real practice in an incredibly quick turnaround.

It’s rational to think he won’t be ready, fair to give him two weeks practice before a Raiders debut.

That’s not the tack he’ll take.

“Hey,” Bowman said, with a wry smile. “I’m going to show you something.”

He understands the situation. The Raiders are 2-4, in desperate need of an AFC West win. A loss might put the Raiders too far down to rebound. The four-time All-Pro knows he’s needed, and believes he can help if he can get some scheme down.

“It’ll take a lot of hours, a lot of studying, a lot of repeating the same words and things like that,” Bowman said after Monday’s walk-through. “It’s part of being a good football player. You have to put the time in. It doesn’t come easy.

“I’m the guy to do it. I won’t let them down. I’ll put the work in that’s needed to be done.”

Immersing in brand new can be a cleansing process. Bowman left the only NFL team he’s ever known Friday when the 49ers cut him loose. He wanted to spend his career with one team. After seven-plus seasons, a switch was required. He didn’t like losing snaps. The 49ers wanted to go younger at the position. A trade was attempted. He didn’t like the suitor, and the 49ers respectfully pulled back. An outright cut was the decisive action.

It gave Bowman an opportunity to choose his next step. He didn’t go far. Bowman’s new job sits 35 miles north in Alameda, which offered plenty of advantages for a family man.

“My twin girls are five and my son is eight and they’re in school,” Bowman said. “They’re doing really well so you always want to keep that going as a parent. You don’t want to keep switching them in and out. That played a big part in what I was going to do. For the Raiders to show as much enthusiasm in wanting me to come here made my decision a lot easier.”

Enthusiasm was evident in two ways. The bottom line comes first. The Raiders offered $3 million to make this deal quick, adding a solid sum to the $6.75 million base salary guaranteed by the 49ers under his previous contract.

The second was clear in a Monday morning conversation with Jack Del Rio. The Raiders head coach spoke plainly, saying Bowman could make a major impact as a player and veteran leader of a shockingly young position group.

“It was really upfront, letting me know their position and how bad they want me,” Bowman said. “He let me know exactly what he wanted to get out of me coming here and being a presence for this defense. Being more vocal, getting guys to understand the urgency to be really good at the NFL level.”

His lessons start Tuesday morning. Starting weakside linebacker Cory James introduced himself in the locker room Monday and asked Bowman when he’ll start watching film. The answer: bright and early.

Bowman has a game to play Thursday. That’s possible because he didn’t have to relocate. He can just hit the ground running. He’s been constantly learning new systems during the 49ers coaching carousel, so he’d a quick learning. He also sees similar concepts between schemes.

“It’s not too different,” Bowman said. “The terminology is really the hard part. I’m a fast learner. I went out there today and I think I did pretty well. I’ll get in here early tomorrow and learn from my mistakes and try to keep getting better.”

That’s Bowman’s first goal. He also wants to show knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries haven’t sapped his effectiveness as many believe.

“I’m only 29 years old,” Bowman said. “I still have a lot of juice left in me.”

With Bowman heading to Oakland, everyone ends up happy, unless...

With Bowman heading to Oakland, everyone ends up happy, unless...

NaVorro Bowman’s employment odyssey lasted three days, and he didn’t have to get his mailing address changed.

The one-year, $3 million deal he reportedly signed with Oakland Monday came after a fairly quiet weekend for all parties. It was an easy choice for him, since there is minimal disruption, and an easy choice for Oakland, which needs all the defensive expertise it can get and has players that Bowman’s diminishing speed cannot expose.

In other words, everyone ends up happy . . . unless Bowman suddenly improves to the point where John Lynch has some ‘splainin’ to do.

The Raiders and 49ers have often shared players, thus belying their often overblown rivalry. The convenience was too . . . well, convenient, and will not be in evidence once Las Vegas becomes an NFL city.

And lord known the Raiders need some new voices in a room that has seemingly gone stale as expectations start to brown into disappointment. Bowman brings an effervescence borne of deep playoff runs, without being too loud a voice in a room that needs to develop more permanent leadership.

As to how much any of this translates into improved defensive play, or just a better vibe coming from Oaktown, well, put it this way.

If Bowman can stanch that level of bleeding, he shouldn’t be playing, he should be an EMT.

But at least he won’t end his career with a sour meeting with the people who run his original team, and that must count for something.