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Khalil Mack had his best practices as a professional this week. That’s not just my take. Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver holds that opinion, and he should know. He spent one-on-one time with the team’s No. 5 overall pick this week, pulling out all stops to accelerate his progress.
The Raiders believe he’s close to becoming a truly dynamic presence. Mack’s physical skills are unquestioned, with enough agility and power to blow by NFL blockers. At times, however, Mack can be a spilt-second late to react. Tarver is trying to fix that with immediate feed back during practice.
“Khalil and I went over and did some of the things we’re going to do in the rush to make sure our mechanics are good,” Tarver said on Thursday. “For a young player, it’s good to do that one-on-one because you can make sure. You can ask him a question in the middle of the drill and say, ‘Hey, how do you see this?,’ or, ‘Hey, well here’s what I was saying in the meeting. Do you understand this now?’ … You prep him for what’s coming, just teach him progressions. The key is to learn it in the meeting, do it on your own, then do it in a team setting and correct it, make sure it’s right.”
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Mack had six tackles, a quarterback hit and a quarterback hurry in his NFL debut against the New York Jets, but there were big plays left unmade. Mack realizes that, but believes he’s ever so close to wreaking havoc on the opposition.
“You see positives on game tape, instances where I’m able to play fast,” Mack said. “Even then, you want to get better. That’s my mindset. I know I can play faster. I know I can do better.”
Tarver is trying to ensure that happens. He was a former outside linebackers coach and has a particular affinity for players like Mack. He knows the impact Mack can make when all goes well. The Raiders threw substantial information at their young pass rusher during the offseason, and plan on refining his responsibilities during the regular season.
Right now, the Raiders simply want Mack to react well and finish strong.
“That first step is key, but it all adds up,” Mack said. “You have to keep that motor running throughout the play and throughout the game because an impact play is always just a snap away. When that what big moment comes, I have to be in position to make a play.”
Mack’s work ethic is unquestioned. So is his talent.
“You can see the explosion in the young man,” Tarver said. “He got better last week, and anything that we coached him on the sideline, he did right and fast the next time. He’s right in the progression where a young edge player should be. When he sees something, he learns from it.”
Tarver expects a quantum leap form Mack between his NFL debut and the second game, a typical jump for most rookies committed to improvement. The game tape has proven valuable to Mack who remains confident in his ability to progress quickly.
“This week, I was able to focus in on what I wanted to get better at,” Mack said. “It’s evident through my preparation. I feel like I’m improving. I know the level of expectation for me on Sundays. I’m fine with that. In fact, I welcome it. I take all the lessons from the previous game and take a positive stride. That’s what I’ve done this week and what I hope to do every week.”