Raiders find defensive hope amid Khalil Mack’s holdout

Updated June 12, 2018 - 9:54 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Life without Khalil Mack, the Raiders hope, will be brief.

Their star defensive end figures to rejoin the team sometime this summer. By that juncture, it’s unclear if he’ll have signed a contract extension worth more than $20 million annually or remain under his one-year, $13.846 million team option. Either way, the team can expect Mack on the field this season.

And so, more important than his absence this spring is what the Raiders are seeing in his wake.

Hope.

Mack officially began a holdout Tuesday, skipping the start of a mandatory three-day minicamp. The 27-year-old is a vital cog to the club’s defense. Naturally, his absence has been felt. But for coaches, the focus has been on developing complementary pieces so that whenever he reports, he’ll have more pass-rush help than he’s received lately.

He and the defense are in dire need.

Mack has managed dominance amid double- and triple-team assignments in protection. Despite that, Oakland has totaled 56 combined sacks the past two seasons, second-fewest in the NFL. He and defensive end Bruce Irvin recorded 21½ and 15 during this span, respectively.

“One of the big reasons I came here was to coach that man (Mack),” coach Jon Gruden said Tuesday. “But I don’t want to speculate (on the holdout). There’s a lot of guys in the league, several players that are in a similar situation. We’re just trying to resolve it as soon as possible, and in the meantime coach the players that are here.”

Mack has skipped the entire spring workout program, which began in April and was voluntary until this week. He’s missed a firsthand look at the team’s draft class.

Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie invested heavily in the line of scrimmage. Those selections included defensive tackle P.J. Hall (second round), defensive end Arden Key (third) and defensive tackle Mo Hurst Jr. (fifth). Although the team cannot wear pads until training camp, they have impressed.

Hurst and Hall offer needed athleticism as interior rushers for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s aggressive one-gap scheme.

“When you’ve been in it long enough, you kind of know, even in shorts, what it’s supposed to look like,” Guenther said. “I think both of those young guys are really coming along. Obviously, Maurice is probably a little bit ahead of P.J. because P.J. comes from a small program (Sam Houston State). … Those guys have done a really good job of picking it up. Arden is the same way. So, we have three guys out of this draft that I think are going to really help us.”

As a Pro Bowler, left guard Kelechi Osemele’s opinion carries obvious weight.

He seemed especially high Tuesday on Hurst, whom the Raiders selected late because of concerns over a heart condition. Osemele said Hurst has “really impressed” him.

“Definitely got a steal with him,” Osemele said. “He’s looking real good. … If he just keeps going, the sky is the limit for that guy. … I’m sure (Mack is) doing whatever he needs to do to be ready when he comes back. Right now, it’s just kind of one of those things where it’s next man up at this point until he gets back.”

The Raiders can fine Mack up to $76,580 for missing minicamp.

Gruden declined comment when asked if they would. It’s expected they won’t.

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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