NAPA – Khalil Mack is unblockable.
That’s not meant to be true, a hyperbolic claim bandied about to illustrate the Raiders edge rusher’s elite talent.
Mack proved it more literal than figurative during a training camp practice last week. He dipped down, squeaked by tackle Donald Penn in a flash and blew up that particular play.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice watched it unfold, analyzed the events and couldn’t think of a counter.
“The other day (Mack) bent down (extremely) close to the ground, went right around Donald and got a simulated sack,” he said. “We turned on the film that night and I said, ‘Donald, I don’t have anything.’ What am I going say? Bend all the way down there with him? It was unbelievable.”
Penn got beat that play. It doesn’t happen much. There’s good give and take between Penn, right tackle Menelik Watson and rushers coming off the edge. Mack and Bruce Irvin are regular sparring partners, and they make every snap a difficult endeavor.
“Those guys are real pros,” Tice said. “The communication between them and our tackles, especially Donald and Menelik, has been great. I enjoy seeing that. And simply going against (Mack), who is an elite player, and (Irvin), who is a really good player, will do nothing but help my guys. They are reaching out and embracing it. They know they’re going to get beat sometimes.
“We like working with those guys. It makes us better.”
While competition can run hot in the moment, opposing sides set up post-play review sessions to help the other side improve.
“What I like about it is it’s not just a competition,” Watson said. “We’re working on things together and we’re communicating. We let the other person know what we’re seeing and how to combat it. It’s not crap talk. It’s always constructive.”
Both sides understand the Raiders must block well and pressure the quarterback to be successful. Weapons are forged at the Napa Valley Marriott during these intense practice sessions. The sides often keep score, and it turns out pretty even.
Mack and Irvin rank among the best edge-rushing combos, while Penn is on a two-year hot streak. Watson’s an athletic freak purely capable when healthy, as he has been this camp.
The Raiders proved excellent pass protectors last season, with quarterback Derek Carr rarely getting grass stains. Mack was a force off the edge last year, and Irvin’s addition should strengthen that defensive attack.
The principal players don’t conceal trade secrets. They compare notes and show the other side how to win. Showing that many cards isn’t normal. Helping the other side could hurt their practice tape but help when it matters most.
“It’s very helpful having a guy like Donald Penn and a guy like Menelik Watson on that side of the ball because they let you know what you beat them with and we let them know what they got us with,” Mack said. “It’s kind of one of those things that, especially with having the experience that I’ve had and Bruce had and D.P., 11 years, almost. He knows what we did to beat him, so having that information it only helps us to use it against other guys.”