NAPA –- Just as it was a season ago, Khalil Mack can’t wait for the pads to come on at Raiders training camp. That’s when the powerful mauler can really play his game.
On Friday afternoon, Mack proved himself a well-rounded pass rusher. He put the moves on tackles and tight ends time an again, invading the backfield without the use of brute force.
Training camp’s first practice, after all, is in shirts and shorts.
One of his last plays was his best, when he whipped around right tackle Menelik Watson and met quarterback Derek Carr before he completed his drop.
“He’s one of the best at his position,” Carr said. “I mean, he’s going to make plays like that. Just like we’re going to make plays, he’s going to make freakish plays. You just know that that stuff is going to happen. It’s like playing Von (Miller), Justin (Houston), Tamba (Hali), DeMarcus (Ware), all those guys. You know they’re going to make plays. They’re going to do something freakish, make a play.”
Exactly where Mack makes a play from remains in some question. He’s listed as a strongside linebacker, but could end up playing a whole lot of defensive end. That role was largely limited to sub packages last season, a split that won’t be so clear cut in 2015.
That was evident during the offseason program and again to start training camp. Last year's No. 5 overall pick lined up as a first-team defensive end several times in the base defense, an option the Raiders are exploring. It makes sense given a lack of quality at end and a glut of competent linebackers.
Malcolm Smith, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Sio Moore –- he’s currently on the physically unable to perform list with a hip ailment -– can all play outside linebacker if Mack’s hand stays in the grass.
The Raiders will certainly move Mack around and let him attack the quarterback from different locations. That requires knowledge about several different spots. That became clear when Mack hopped back and forth between linebacker and defensive linemen when broken into position groups.
It’s a juggling act Mack doesn’t mind at all.
“That’s what (general manager Reggie McKenzie) brought me here to do,” Mack said. “...I love doing linebacker drills and defensive end drills. It helps me get better and it will help this defense be great and win games.”
No matter where he plays, this coaching staff wants Mack to attack, attack, attack. That's a role he's comfortable in heading into his second season. Mack is more polished than a year ago, and quietly confident in his ability. He’s bulked up well over last year’s playing weight, with uncanny strength that can move offensive linemen far bigger.
That was evident on Friday afternoon, a solid start in what the Raiders hope is a breakout season.
“The goal was to play well on the first day, and set a high standard for yourself,” Mack said. “From there, you have to keep increasing your level of play.”