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Expectations are sky high for Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack. The No. 5 overall pick has been compared to Von Miller and Clay Matthews by those instrumental in drafting him, which suggests even the Raiders believe he’ll contribute right away.
Miller and Matthews, after all, had a combined 21.5 sacks in their rookie seasons.
No pressure, Khalil.
The 23-year old feels it, but not from you or me. The drive to make an immediate impact comes from inside.
“I’m very confident in how I work and what I can do,” Mack said after Sunday’s practice. “This is only the beginning of a long journey. I’m looking forward to getting better every day. (Being under a microscope) has nothing to do with my mindset. It’s all coming out here and being the best teammate I can be and doing my job well.”
That’s after a pair of underwhelming preseason starts. He’s had four tackles and a sack on the stat sheet. He and head coach Dennis Allen saw improvement outside the numbers from the first game to the second, with fewer mental errors and more technical prowess. Still, Mack shrugged off those efforts as subpar.
[REWIND: Mack has another quiet night vs. Lions]
“I’m my biggest critic, you know what I mean?” Mack said. “I like to make big plays, and I haven’t been in the mix as much as I would like. But that doesn’t mean I’m frustrated. I’m motivated to work and do what it takes to win.”
The Raiders are asking him to learn a lot in practice, dynamic elements of a defense we won’t see in the preseason. There’s been little in terms of blitzing or moving around, which Mack will do plenty of in the regular season.
But, in terms of winning his matchups, the results haven’t been sterling. According to Pro Football Focus, Mack has pressured the quarterback just once – his sack of third-string Lions quarterback Kellen Moore – in 21 snaps rushing the passer.
We must address that this is the preseason and results don’t matter, and that nobody in Silver and Black is concerned about Mack’s performance. At this stage, they shouldn’t be.
Mack has time and room to grow mentally and technically speaking, but he still expects better results.
“I feel like I have to step up on my end," Mack said. "and do my job better.”
If there’s any Raider who understands the expectations of being a high pick, it’s free safety Charles Woodson. The Raiders drafted him No. 4 overall in 1998, fresh off a Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Michigan.
Woodson understands that growth in the NFL game isn’t easy, even for someone with pedigree. He watches Mack every day in practice and on film, and he is confident everything will work out fine.
“This is still training camp and he has a lot on his plate, not just from the standpoint of him being a high pick and everybody expecting that ‘wow’ factor out of him, but as far as the plays, knowing the positions and different things they have him doing, there is a lot expected of him in that sense too,” Woodson said. “You have to allow him to grow as a player, as far as coming into camp and getting ready for his first pro season and let him go through a few of the growing pains. This guy is going to be OK. I think the sky is the limit for him.”