NAPA – Raiders left tackle Donald Penn is pretty good at his job. Pass rusher Khalil Mack isn’t too bad at his.
That makes for some epic clashes when the pair line up across from each other time and time again during training camp. Most of their meetings come in team drills.
Every now and then, when the pads come on, Penn and Mack go at it one-on-one. They’re fun battles to watch.
In addition to being a terrific run defender, Mack had with four sacks and 54 quarterback hurries in 2014. Penn had an excellent season last year, stopping pass rushers cold 95.7 percent of the time.
It’s top talent vs. top talent, and they don’t hold back.
“I told him one of these days I’m going to continuously beat him consistently, but he won’t let me put that in his head,” Mack said after Saturday’s practice. “It’s something we look forward to every day, coming out here and getting better.”
Penn and Mack keep a tally of their one-on-one matchups.
Mack won a best of three series on Monday. Penn was the victor on Wednesday. On Saturday, they went at it again.
The Raiders coaching staff sets these duels up like a competition, with an offensive lineman and a defensive counterpart locking horns three times. Whoever wins – defensive lineman have to reach the quarterback, offensive guys must prevent it – gets a point for their unit. The highest score wins bragging rights.
This round went to Penn, who kept Mack circling his prey without making a kill twice in three tries.
“That was for bragging rights,” Mack said. “I think he got two out of three, so I have to come back better tomorrow and give him some.”
These clashes are competitive, but their also helpful to each player. When the whistle blows, Mack and Penn will review, critique and offer advice.
“I like to win all the time, and Khalil does, too,” Penn said. “We talk a lot of trash and have a good time, but we can also talk business. We relay what we see in the other person and how to combat things. During practice I’ll switch things up on him and show him different looks. He’ll attack me different ways, which keeps me on my toes.
“It’s a great battle and we go back and forth.”
It helps both players to go up against quality. Mack knows Penn is an excellent pass blocker. The Pro Bowler has been doing it well for years, and had a career renaissance last season in Oakland. Mack is coming into his own as a second-year player. Penn sees a dominant season for Mack up ahead, and wants to help him get there.
“I think Khalil has made a great, big jump as a pass rusher,” Penn said. “We know he can play the run well, but he’s much better getting after the quarterback. He showed me some new pass-rush moves already in this camp. He’s building and is clearly more confident. The kid is coming into his own and he knows he’s good.
“…We have a mutual respect for each other, and that’s what sets the relationship apart. He’s like a little brother to me, and we work together. We grind and we go at it in practice. I think that intensity and hard work makes us both better.”