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.”

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?


Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders


Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”