ALAMEDA -- Raiders quarterback Derek Carr went on a national radio show earlier this offseason and said something outlandish. He claimed friend, teammate and elite pass rusher Khalil Mack would have 30 sacks in 2016.
That would be an NFL record. By, like, a lot. It would double the 15 earned in last year’s breakout season, when Mack was widely recognized as one of the best. An All-Pro at two positions, Mack belongs in a category among J.J. Watt and Von Miller as the NFL’s best defenders.
"Watch the tape. He's held every play,” Carr said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “He's like nobody else in the league. He's talented."
Carr may have exaggerated next year’s sack total some, but the Raiders know Mack’s an elite talent. That’s why the Raiders gave him some help, adding Bruce Irvin and rookies Shilique Calhoun and Jihad Ward on the defensive front. Aldon Smith is on the way back after a suspension.
The Raiders want to help Mack take that next step, and maximize his opportunities to wreak havoc.
“You saw how dominant he can be,” linebacker Malcolm Smith said after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “Teams are going to plan for that and we have to grow as a group around him to be able to free him up to make even more plays. We’re trying to raise our level to his and he’s trying to take his to the next level.”
Mack is physically imposing and hurt competition with raw power, but continues to develop pass-rush techniques to add to his repertoire. Mack can be near impossible to stop, and his coaches want that more often. That should free others to make plays as well.
“We expect him to play at that level all the time,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said last week. “The really good players know how to make players around them better. It can’t just be Khalil. It has to be Bruce (Irvin), it has to be all the guys up front. The group, as a whole, has to take the same leap that Khalil does. Khalil has to learn how to bring everybody with him.”
Mack was pretty consistent last year, He had 54 tackles and missed only four. He had 15 sacks, and 64 other quarterback pressures. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated edge rusher. Still, he wants to do more and be a better leader in 2016.
“We want to start off strong and finish strong,” Mack said. “You can say it’s going to be different because we added different pieces, but at the end of the day, it’s all about getting better and improving what we did last year.
“…(For me, it’s about) being more consistent in the pass and the run, doing all I can to help my teammates, just being a great teammate.”