Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will analyze each position group leading up to Raiders training camp, which starts on July 29.
Khalil Mack had 15 sacks in 2015, a dominant season against the run and pass where he became a recognizable commodity. He did so without steady influence rushing from the opposite edge, able to fend off significant attention to make big plays.
He could see less of it this season, because Bruce Irvin’s in town. The free agent signing from Seattle is an excellent pass rusher in his own right, one who coaches say will be attacking more than in recent seasons.
Both players are versatile enough to edge rush standing up or on the line, effectively set the edge against the run and cover when called upon. That’s why Irvin has called he and Mack the “Slash Bros,” a nickname that’s pretty accurate.
Mack and Irvin have become fast friends, and seem excited about the prospects of pressuring opposing quarterbacks and using versatility to add an air of unpredictability to the Raiders defense.
- Khalil Mack
- Bruce Irvin
- Shilique Calhoun
- Damontre Moore
- James Cowser
- Kyrie Wilson
1. Can Mack be even better?
Khalil Mack was awesome last season, to the tune of 77 tackles, 15 sacks, 23 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles in 1,019 defensive snaps. He was an All-Pro at two different positions and among serious contenders for NFL defensive player of the year. It seems unfair to expect more of Mack statistically, though he continues to grow and refine techniques to match with unreal strength and agility for his size. Mack wants to be the best, even in a world with J.J. Watt. There’s no reason to think he can’t consistently reach that level. The guy is that good.
2. What impact will Bruce Irvin have on Raiders defense?
Irvin made a smart choice upon signing with the Raiders. He reunites with Ken Norton Jr., Raiders defensive coordinator and former Seahawks linebackers coach. He found a friend and fellow defensive threat in Mack who can help create desirable matchups. He also found a scheme that fits him well and allows him to rush the passer more than in recent seasons. Many are expecting a solid year from Irvin, whose presence should make life easier on Mack. Irvin must make the most of his opportunity and help lead a defense with many new faces.
3. Who leads the second wave?
Mack and Irvin will be the team’s primary edge rushers, but depth is important for this position group. Aldon Smith is one of the league’s best edge rushers, but is serving a suspension and won’t be available until November at the earliest. The Raiders added to this group with third-round pick Shilique Calhoun, a career defensive end who should back up Irvin at strongside linebacker. Damontre Moore was also signed this offseason and has yet to realize solid potential. Mario Edwards Jr. can also rush off the edge, giving the Raiders options if depth is pressed into regular action.