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.”