NAPA – Shilique Calhoun is used to attack mode. He spent most every snap at Michigan State with the opposing backfield in mind, where he was a regular in college.
He had 27 sacks as a Spartan, including 18.5 in his last two seasons. He was a traditional defensive end then, a pretty good one at that. The three-time second-team All-American has been asked to step back occasionally as a strongside linebacker. That’s a hybrid position generally rushing off the edge, but Calhoun must be ready for anything at that spot.
The third-round pick is excited about a role being learned during his first NFL training camp.
“I don’t believe that what they have me doing is outside my reach,” Calhoun said. “I’ve covered in college, although not as much as I’m being asked to do now, and I think it’s well within my athletic abilities. There are new responsibilities, and I haven’t been put in a situation where I felt uncomfortable.”
The Raiders want Calhoun ready for anything, as the primary backup rushing off the edge. He’ll be used on a rotational basis at least, and will likely play a key role in moments this season.
“We try and cross train them to do multiple roles so that we have flexibility when the fall gets here,” Del Rio said. “Shilique’s done a nice job of being able to be a guy that can play when they’re behind Khalil [Mack] or he can play in there behind Bruce [Irvin]. They’re going to do both. We like them coming forward a lot, but they do have coverage responsibilities from time to time and so Shilique is learning, much like they’re learning how to do both.”
Calhoun left college a relatively polished pass rusher, with plenty of tools on the utility belt that help him get to the quarterback. The Raiders are adding more, but ultimately want to highlight his athleticism off the edge.
“You have to advance your skills at this level, but it was so great to hear them say they want me to be myself,” Calhoun said. “They drafted me for a reason, because they like my style of play. We’re trying to expand my repertoire a little more to counter what people have planned for you.”
Calhoun has flashed threatening agility working with the second unit. He squared off against veteran Austin Howard earlier this week, and used great quickness to sneak underneath the big tackle and make a beeline for the quarterback. He earned a simulated sack then, one of several plays that indicate he’s adjusting well to professional football.
“I have a long way to go, but I’m working through the process,” Calhoun said. “I believe I have a great understanding of my role and what I’m being asked to do in terms of concepts of the defense. I’ve matured mentally, and I’ve gained some good weight. I’m right where I should be, knowing I have tons of work left to do. I have high expectations, and I want to exceed those.”
Calhoun doesn’t like simulated sacks, but knows real deals only come in games. His first game kicks off Friday at Arizona, where he hopes to bear fruit from this training camp’s labor.
“We have some really good tackles, but I do try to get home a lot,” Calhoun said. “I’m not sure how much I'm doing that. We’ll have to see how efficient I am in the regular season, when it really counts. If I can’t finish, a good rush doesn’t mean a thing.
“This first preseason game is a great opportunity for the young players to showcase their talents in a game situation. I’m excited and ready to go. I’m counting the days down now.”