Shortly after the Raiders selected outside linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall, Jason Tarver grabbed some pens and headed for the whiteboard.
The coordinator they call “mad scientist” started diagramming creative ways to use this dangerous, versatile talent to wreak havoc. The options, it seems, are vast.
Mack’s versatility ensures that.
“There was definitely some scribbling going on that day,” Tarver said. “What’s nice about Khalil is he has size and athletic ability, so that he can do some things on the edges of your defense, both in the run game and in the pass game, with his power, his length and his ability to bend and move. Those are traits that you want as many players as you can have on your defense, as many of those as we can get, the happier a coordinator is.”
With veteran upgrades throughout a new-look defense, Mack is Tarver’s wild card. He can do so much so well that the Raiders will move him around -- though he’ll primarily play strongside linebacker -- to add an air of unpredictably to their pass rush.
The Raiders are experimenting with how to use Mack best, and this offseason trial period has brought an tidal wave of information.
“We’ve got his head spinning right now,” head coach Dennis Allen said with a wry smile. “That’s a good thing. We’re going to try to throw as much at him as we can throughout the rest of this offseason and really even into the early part of training camp, and then at some point we’ll settle down to the things that we can execute as a team and execute at a high level.”
Mack is a lab rat right now, and was prepared for coaches to overload his circuitry. Even still, he agrees with Allen's assessment.
“There are a lot of voices behind my head right now, and I'm trying to figure out what safeties are saying, and you have different calls," Mack said. "It’s a lot of communication, like they said, but you have to listen to the right things while you’re out there and that’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m trying to break down and assess the game at a fast and a high level like those guys are at right now.”
As mentally daunting as the offseason program was, Mack enjoyed the stress test.
“It’s a challenge, and I’m open to the challenge,” Mack said. “I’m trying to go out there every day and work on something that they want me to work on, and get better at it. And try not to make the same mistakes. That’s my biggest thing. I try to go out there and do what I can to make plays and be in the right position. That’s all they’re trying to do, to put me in the right position to make plays. I’m thankful for that.”
The Raiders expect Mack to be a big-time playmaker in his first season. The expectations are sky high for someone yet to take a professional snap, inside Raiders headquarters and out. Some bold comparisons have been made. Allen likened him to Von Miller. Others say he’ll play like Clay Matthews.
Miller had 11.5 sacks his rookie year. Matthews had 10. Both guys made the Pro Bowl their first year.
No pressure, Khalil. Mack swears he doesn’t feel any, and that high expectations don’t impact his preparation.
“I’m a relaxed individual,” Mack said. “I don’t really think pressure, pressure, pressure. I think more (straightforward). Work on this and work on that. Just do your job. This is a job now, and I have to be a professional. There’s no more redshirts, no more baby steps, I have to go out and play football, which is fine. That’s what I love to do.”