Jon Gruden wants to pair Khalil Mack with dominant inside rusher


Jon Gruden wants to pair Khalil Mack with dominant inside rusher

Khalil Mack is a dominant player, an elite edge rusher and an attraction when head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther joined the Raiders this winter.

Guenther has been at the dry-erase board, coming up with ways to get Mack free. As he said shortly after taking the job, isolating Mack in a one-on-one matchup is as good as a blitz.

Mack routinely sees double teams, occasionally more attention than that. He can handle it, as proven time and again the last few seasons. Remember his game-winning strip sack against Carolina in 2016? The Panthers had a guard, tackle and running back devoted to Mack. He got home anyway, took the ball from Cam Newton and won a game.

No. 52 can do what is hard. Gruden wants to make his job a little easier.

“Mack is certainly a centerpiece for our football team,” Gruden said last week at the NFL owners meetings. “We’d like a better inside rush for him to even be better.”

Guenther’s installing a defensive scheme based on what he ran in Cincinnati, that featured a dominant four-man rush. Geno Atkins led that inside push, and ranks among the league’s elite defensive tackles.

That guy’s tough to clone. The Raiders understand that. They sniffed around Ndamukong Suh after Miami released him, but the price was high and Suh ultimately cancelled at trip to Oakland and signed with the L.A. Rams.

The Raiders might have to look at the draft for help with their greatest post-free agency need. Michigan’s Maurice Hurst fits the bill of a strong inside pass rusher, and might be a good trade-down candidate in the first round. The Silver and Black could look for someone in the second round or later.

Gruden also called out one of his own to play better and live up to his athletic ability.

“Mario Edwards, if you’re listening out there…,” Gruden said, trailing off for effect. “If we can get inside rush going… That’s what Warren Sapp did for Simeon Rice (when Gruden was in Tampa Bay). It’s tough for the quarterback to step up. If a quarterback can’t step up, these great pass rushers can have a feast.”

That’s what Gruden wants for Mack and Irvin. Edwards would certainly help that cause. The 2015 second-round pick showed flashes of dominance as a rookie and early last season, but injury or inconsistency has kept the former five-star prep recruit from realizing potential. Gruden needs that from Edwards and others brought in to bring heat from the inside.

“(Mack) is a spectacular player,” Gruden said. “I don’t think he has scratched the surface yet. If we can get a better inside pass rush, a more consistent inside rush, a dominant inside rush, you’ll see the best of this guy. You see some of the disruption he hasn’t gotten credit for, and it’s really exciting for us to see what could happen.”

Raiders vs. Cardinals live stream: Watch 2018 NFL Week 11 game online


Raiders vs. Cardinals live stream: Watch 2018 NFL Week 11 game online

The Raiders have had to make changes all week due to poor air quality in the Bay Area. What effect that has will be determined soon when they play the Cardinals Sunday in Arizona. 

Is this the week the Raiders get their second win of the season? How much will the absences of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant hurt the offense? Can Derek Carr out-play rookie Josh Rosen?

We're about to find out.

Here's how to watch Sunday's Raiders-Cardinals NFL game online. 

Start time: Sunday, Nov. 18, at 1:05 p.m. PT
TV channel: CBS
Raiders live stream: fuboTV -- Get a free trial

Raiders' Week 11 prep still impacted by poor air quality from Camp Fire


Raiders' Week 11 prep still impacted by poor air quality from Camp Fire

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders downgraded their practice to a walk-through for the second consecutive day because of poor air quality, again moving off-site to work indoors at a local sports complex.

While anyone in Silver and Black is careful to point out that inconveniences brought about by thick smoke in the Bay Area are inconsequential to the lives, homes and other property lost in the Camp Fire itself, the Raiders are at a disadvantage while preparing for Sunday’s road game against the Arizona Cardinals. 

They haven’t conducted a full-speed practice since Wednesday, and even that was conducted in poor air quality. Conditions have worsened dramatically over the past few days, with unhealthy conditions for even normal, healthy adults.

Had a home game been scheduled for Sunday, the NFL surely would’ve moved it to another location. The Environmental Protection Agency gave air quality an unhealthy score of 159 before the previous game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The EPA’s air quality score in Oakland was 256.

Smoky air drove the Raiders indoors, where they got in reps but none at full speed. They don’t have the space or quality surface to do real football work, but the Raiders are making do.

“We’re practicing in an indoor ice rink that was [converted] to a soccer field,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “We didn’t have much room to get the splits and get the routes run. We’re not going to make any excuses. We’re not the only people dealing with adversity right now.”

That last part is true, but this week’s prep wasn’t complete, and it could impact their ability to earn the season’s second win against a beatable opponent.

“The practices have impacted us. You need to see things at speed to generate timing," Gruden said. "Switching stunts in a walk-through in an indoor facility is one thing, in a controlled fashion. Switching them on a practice field at full speed is another. Timing out routes, seeing it at speed. That’s why you see a lot of indoor facilities around the league. It gets bad outside, they go inside. Fortunately for us, we were able to find a place to get some work in.”