Mack, Irvin Make Scary Tandem in Oakland

Mack, Irvin Make Scary Tandem in Oakland

JIM WORKMAN


Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, runs drills at teammate Bruce Irvin’s youth football camp in West Virginia, Saturday, June 24. Photo courtesy of David Harvey, DavidHarveyWV.com 

Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, runs drills at teammate Bruce Irvin’s youth football camp in West Virginia, Saturday, June 24. Photo courtesy of David Harvey, DavidHarveyWV.com 

The Oakland Raiders have always carried a reputation as a squad that imposes its will on opponents, striking fear in hearts not easily intimidated.

As good as the NFL franchise has been in the past, the 21st century version has the potential to be the most frightening yet.

Khalil Mack is the cornerstone of a Raiders defense that will make the team playoff contenders.

Mack emerged as a star in 2015, becoming the first player in NFL history to be named to an All-Pro at two different positions, linebacker and defensive end, in just his second pro season. 

Taking it up a notch, in 2016 Mack was given the Defensive Player of the Year award – also known as the Dick Butkus Award – contributing 73 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, one interception.

Mack is becoming well known for the strip sack – jarring the football loose from a quarterback, causing a turnover as he drives the opponent to the turf.

That tactic has sealed victories in multiple occasions already in his young career. 

Mack, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, has been everything he was advertised to be coming out of the University of Buffalo, bringing glory back to Raider Nation.

In fact, he became the first Oakland Raider to win the Defensive Player of the Year award since Stickum-slathered cornerback Lester Hayes claimed the award in 1980.

Mack is so respected in the league already that Butkus himself recently wanted to pay personal homage.

The legendary linebacker insisted on presenting Mack's Butkus trophy during a private Raiders team meeting at its training facility in June. 

Mack will quickly point to another talented defender adorned in silver and black.

Bruce Irvin conducted a youth football camp in West Virginia, Saturday June, 24 along with former college and current pro teammates. Photo courtesy of David Harvey, DavidHarveyWV.com

Bruce Irvin conducted a youth football camp in West Virginia, Saturday June, 24 along with former college and current pro teammates. Photo courtesy of David Harvey, DavidHarveyWV.com

His counterpart on the opposite side of the defense also helps makes Oakland a solid bunch to contend with, he’ll insist.

Bruce Irvin was a first round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL Draft, No. 15 overall. But Irvin came to the Raiders in 2016, and became an instant contributor with seven sacks, 57 tackles and six forced fumbles.

He's another player whose position is blurred - sometimes a defensive end, sometimes an outside linebacker – just like Mack. 

Being on the opposite side of teammate Mack - the pair form one of the most formidable defensive tandems in the game.

And they’re a tight knit duo.

How close are the pair? For starters, Irvin wears jersey number 51 while Mack sports number 52.

That should give you an idea. 

Mack, 26, and Irvin, 29, have the ability to make the Raiders a scary opponent on NFL schedules - and Super Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future.

Their relationship has been natural – a brotherly tie hard to explain.

“It was easy – meant to be,” Mack said of getting to know Irvin. “I’m glad he chose to come to Oakland. He blended right in. 

“We are a perfect fit. He helps me do what I can do to help the team.”

On and off the field – it’s the same, Mack said.

“He’s a heck of a player – on the field, it’s crazy,” he added. “I don’t think (Irvin) gets as much credit as he deserves. He is one of the best in the game.”

The two are ultra-competitive, even with each other.

“Yes we are,” Irvin admitted, with a laugh. “Even if it’s who is going to drink Gatorade the fastest.”

“No doubt,” Mack agreed. “We are always looking to see who can get off the ball the fastest – get to the quarterback. Being competitive, that’s why we click together so well.” 

Now, things are looking up for the Raiders.

Oakland looked like a Super Bowl contender last season until quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. Oakland (12-4) lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Texans, falling 27-14 in a wild-card matchup with rookie quarterback Connor Cook, making his pro debut no less, under center.

The Raiders had been down for a while, missing the playoffs for 13 straight seasons before breaking through with a Wild Card berth in 2016.

“Our first goal is always to win the (AFC West) Division,” Mack said. “That will allow us to get our foot in the door and get in those playoffs. Then, we’ll try to make that run.”

Oakland has loaded up in recent years with solid draft picks such as quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper and key acquisitions such as Irvin and another former Seahawk, running back Marshawn Lynch, who joins the Raiders this season.

“Our offense is special,” Mack said. “They just paid Derek $125 (million) and you can see why. He has some weapons in (Michael) Crabtree, Amari (Cooper) and Seth Roberts stepping in. Our offensive line is one of the best – if not THE best in the league. With those guys getting better, we’re only going to get better as a team.”

“I don’t really worry about the offense,” Irvin said. “I’m focused on what the defense needs to do. I think we’re on the right track.”

With the recent resurgence of the Raiders, the NFL seems to a better, more exciting league.

The Raiders fan base is the reason.

“There’s no doubt,” Mack said. “These fans feel it, and we feel it.

“They’re one of the best fans ever,” Mack added. “You talk about die hard? We love them. We want to win for them because we see what it does for them when we win.”

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