Raiders

Khalil Mack earns respect, surprise visit from all-time NFL great

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USATI

Khalil Mack earns respect, surprise visit from all-time NFL great

Khalil Mack passed a somewhat familiar face while walking to a Raiders team meeting. A moustache caused him to do a double take.

“Was that…Dick Butkus?”

Questions stormed through Mack’s mind. Why would the legendary Chicago Bears linebacker be in Alameda? Was the feared Hall of Famer, one of the best defenders in NFL history, a guest speaker during the offseason program? Head coach Jack Del Rio often used creative tactics this time of year. Maybe that was it.

Then Mack walked into the auditorium. Fellow players were seated, and team cameras were focused on him. Something was clearly up.

Mack was surprised to be the man of the hour, given the professional Dick Butkus award by its namesake, who flew from Los Angeles for the event. It’s given to the best professional and collegiate linebacker, and Mack was runner up for the amateur honor at the University of Buffalo.

“It was a pleasant surprise man,” Mack said Thursday, a day after the presentation. “In college I wanted to win it, and being like I won it now, it’s a surreal thing.”

Whether Mack plays linebacker anymore is debatable, but there’s no doubt he’s an elite defender. He was named a 2015 All-Pro at linebacker and defensive end, and was the NFL’s defensive player of the year last season.

He’s physical, immensely productive and excellent under pressure. Stats bear that out. So does the eye test.

Turn on last year’s tape and be wowed, from his interception returned for a touchdown to four fourth-quarter sacks including a strip that beat Carolina. Then there’s the never-fail run defense, which would make an old school football man proud watching.

Butkus is one of those. Most professionals receive the Butkus award without fanfare, but the legend wanted to do this one in person.

“It was awesome. Dick Butkus had his people call and ask if he could come and present,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I said, ‘If you’re coming, absolutely. Love to have you.’ It was a big honor to have one of the legends in Dick Butkus come himself and acknowledge a great player for us and a guy who was defensive player of the year last year.”

The presentation’s initial focus was on the presenter.

Butkus highlights flashed across a big screen, showing a Monster of the Midway at his ferocious best.

“Dick Butkus highlights are crazy,” Mack said.

They feature intimidation through violence, an acutle aggesssive style that were effective yet wouldn’t fly in today’s NFL.

“If you could grab somebody’s helmet like that now, oh man. That would be lovely,” Mack said with a smile. “That would be lovely, man.”

A reporter also reminded him it’d be a fine. “I know, right?” Mack said. “That’d be a lot of money.”

Mack hasn't ever been fined. He has found a way to intimidate through proficiency, to excel in this era without the bravado typically accompanying such stature. His rarely wavers, but leadership has become more vocal with seasons gone by. Check out the peer pressure he applied to keep players out of trouble during summer break, telling them not to throw away a lottery ticket.

There’s no chance Mack will do so. He doesn’t take true breaks, preferring to stay in work mode during offseason lulls. He typically takes a few days after the season. He won’t go find some place exotic before training camp begins July 28, even when most others will.

“Everybody’s talking about what they might do, but I doubt it," Mack said, laughing. "I’m going to stay away from the beach. I grew up in Florida, I had 18 years to go out and walk on the sand, the beach and stuff. So, I’m over it. I’m going to be working.”

Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

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Injury report: CB Sean Smith questionable; Washington TE Reed's status uncertain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Raiders are remarkably healthy heading into Sunday night’s game against the Washington football club.

The entire 53-man roster practiced fully on Friday, before heading to the nation’s capital.

That includes veteran cornerback Sean Smith, who missed the previous game with a neck injury. A shoulder ailment cropped up during the week, which prompted the Raiders to label him questionable heading into Week 3. Smith’s the only Raider on the injury report, and even he’s in decent shape.

“I mean we put it on there because there’s still a little bit of a question,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “You don’t have probable’s anymore. Given the choices, I just left him that way.”

That means the Raiders are going to have some healthy scratches a week after Smith was the only injured player sitting out.

Washington has some impact players on the mend. That included tight end Jordan Reed, who is questionable with a rib/sternum injury. He stands 6-foot-2, 246 pounds and is the type of receiving tight end that gives the Raiders fits. He has 1,638 yards 17 touchdowns the last two seasons, using good hands and a large frame to create mismatches in the secondary.

It’ll be key for the Raiders to defend him well if he’s active, with Nicholas Morrow as a primary coverage option.

“We’re prepared to face him,” Del Rio said. “We think he’s a good player. We’ll approach it that way and adjust if he doesn’t go.”

Washington also lists starting inside linebacker Mason Foster and running back Rob Kelley as questionable.

Raiders Injury Report
Questionable
CB Sean Smith (neck/shoulder)

Washington Injury Report
Questionable

TE Jordan Reed (rib/sternum), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), RB Rob Kelley (rib), S Monate Nicholson (shoulder), CB Josh Norman (shoulder)

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

Karl Joseph living up to first-round billing with early impact for Raiders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Raiders safety Karl Joseph notched his first career forced fumble in Week 2’s blowout victory over the New York Jets. It came on his first sack, where he bent around a tackle into the pocket and devoured his pray.

Joseph recovered the ball, and the Raiders quickly scored a touchdown. The second-year pro enjoyed that moment, but left the game with regrets.

"I should have definitely had more sacks than I did,” Joseph said. “I feel like I should have had three.”

Joseph had quarterback Josh McCown in the crosshairs three times, and feels like he should’ve finished each one. The game plan provided opportunity. Joseph blitzed six times – fellow safety Reggie Nelson attacked thrice – and pressured the quarterback four times.

It was a relatively new responsibility, considering he blitzed nine times all last year. Joseph will be first to say he was a different player then. He was less explosive, more tentative and a smidge less confident, lingering effects from an ACL tear during his final college season. Joseph was cleared to play as a rookie but wasn’t all the way back, doubly hampered by missing an offseason program where rookies grow quick.

"I wasn’t completely myself,” Joseph said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California. “I feel a lot more like myself this year. I obviously feel better physically, and the year of experience in the system has definitely helped. So has adjusting to the NFL life. That’s been an easier transition for me.”

Joseph is playing more like his highlight reel from West Virginia, where he proved a heavy hitter and a solid cover man worthy of last year’s No. 14 overall draft pick. The Jets game isn’t the only evidence of that.

Joseph had an excellent training camp, flashing an aggressive style and solid timing making plays in practice. That translated to the regular-season opener at Tennessee, when he saved a touchdown on consecutive plays. The first came on an open-field tackle. The second was a leaping pass breakup in the end zone, proof positive that Joseph was ready to make a big impact.

"He’s really good close to the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He’s a really good tackler in the open field. He also plays well on the back end. I think his development is right on time right now.”

The Raiders recognize that, and are using him like a queen on the chessboard. He can move back or forward, as an attacker or the last line of defense. He’s a rover at times, with an ability to create havoc at all levels of the defense.

Joseph is an excellent fit for the defensive scheme, bring a tone-setting physicality to the secondary. He is learning, as part of his development, that the nuclear option isn’t always best. There are times when it is, and Joseph enters those scenarios without fear.

"You can’t play worried about getting hurt. That’s not the way I play,” Joseph said. “It’s about being smart. I had to adjust my game coming into the NFL. Every hit can’t be a big hit. Sometimes you have to be smart and just wrap people up, but you can’t ever play scared.”

He isn’t afraid to take risks or attack when asked, and is already making a major impact on this year’s defense. That isn’t a surprise. It’s expected of first-round picks.

"That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to make plays,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a guy we selected because we thought he’d be a guy that could come in and impact on our defense. In the first two games of this year he’s played well. There are still things, like I tell you all the time, that have cleaning up to do, work to do, things to improve on, but he’s off to a good start and obviously it follows up from a good offseason. Healthy, a lot of good work and confidence that he’s gaining as we go.”