Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver just received a bunch of new weapons in the NFL draft, including an outside linebacker in Khalil Mack who is projected to be something special.
The Raiders drafted six defensive players in eight picks last week, adding depth to a unit revamped with veteran talent.
Tarver talked about his new unit in a Wednesday interview with 95.7 FM’s Damon Bruce.
Mack was the main focus, especially with a rookie minicamp set to start on Thursday. Tarver lauded Mack’s versatility and what he can bring to a pass rush right away. The Raiders are expected to move him around and give an air of unpredictability to the defensive front.
“Khalil is a power rusher with the ability to bend, so pass rush is No. 1 for him, whether he’s playing linebacker or with his hand in the dirt (as a defensive end),” Tarver said. “His main function is to set edges in the run game and get after the quarterback. That’s why he does best.
“He has enough ability to flip and move and run in space, that if we do need him to drop into coverage, he can do that as well. But we like him as a player moving forward (an attacking).”
[RELATED: Raiders sign first-round pick Khalil Mack]
Tarver was equally excited about last year’s first-round pick. Cornerback D.J. Hayden landed on injured reserve with a groin injury just eight games into his rookie year, and never established himself as a dominant player. Hayden was set back from the start. He had surgery to repair an artery ruptured in a University of Houston practice and was limited in his first preseason. Hayden has a clean bill of health, and the coach staff expects him to make significant progress this season.
“D.J. (dealt with so much) both in life and in football happen to him in his rookie season,” Tarver said. “With the surgeries and injuries and everything he’s been through, D.J. has had a lot to overcome. He’s a great young man.
“We’re in Phase II of the offseason program right now, and we’re able to do some field work. He’s honing his techniques. He looks explosive. He’s put on weight and strength. He’s focusing in on learning the little things of the defense that can help him play faster and be more aggressive on certain types of routes. We’re pleased with what D.J.’s doing right now. He’s definitely on the upswing. It’s clicking, and that’s a good thing.”
Tarver touched on several topics during his 95.7 FM interview. Here’s a full transcript of that discussion:
Q: How much lobbying for Khalil Mack did you do?
A: The draft board was set ahead of time. He was a high value at that pick and we were very excited to have him. Reggie and the scouts and the entire organization work together to set that board, and we’re getting better and better at it. Khalil is a result of that process.
Q: Was he the name that fell to you? Was there another option?
A: There were a good number of players who were valued at the fifth pick and we were fortunate that he fell to us there. We practice several scenarios ahead of time. The position versatility and talent makes him an exciting player.
Q: Do you envision him playing more at OLB, with his hand in the dirt, or can he do both equally well and that adds to his value?
A: He does both equally well. When you’re looking for a impact players at the edge of an NFL defense, some people align in a 3-4 front, some more in a 4-3. Khalil is a power rusher with the ability to bend, so pass rush is number 1 whether he’s playing linebacker or with his hand in the dirt. His main function is to set edges in the run game and get after the quarterback. That’s why he does best.
He has enough ability to flip and move and run in space, that if we do need him to drop into coverage, he can do that as well. He like him as a player moving forward.
Q: How does a player of Khalil’s talent end up at Buffalo?
A: He focused on basketball as a young man, as a lot of athletes do. He was discovered later in the football process. He’s the younger of three brothers and his dad’s a tough man as well. That goes to show what people can develop into when presented with an opportunity. He had 75 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in college. Khalil gets around the football, and that’s what we’ve got to have. The more times we can take the football away and give the ball back to Matt Schaub and MJD and McFadden, the better we’ll be.
Q: On Justin Ellis…
A: This is a young man who is strong, and has the ability to bend and strike and move people. Owe wanted to get bigger and stronger in the draft. As Reggie (McKenzie) has said before, we want to do the pushing around. That’s what Jelly will help us do.
Q: What did you think of D.J. Hayden’s rookie season, what did you ask him to work on and do you believe he will be more involved this year?
A: The answer to the last question is yes. D.J. saw everything both in life and in football happen to him in his rookie season. With the surgeries and injuries and everything he’s been through, D.J. has had a lot to overcome. He’s a great young man. We’re in Phase II of the offseason program right now, and we’re able to do some field work. He’s honing his techniques. He looks explosive. He’s put on weight and strength. He’s focusing in on learning the little things of the defense that can help him play faster and be more aggressive on certain types of routes. We’re pleased with what D.J.’s doing right now. He’s definitely on the upswing. It’s clicking, and that’s a good thing. With his explosive skills, he should be able to get his hands on the ball like he did at the end of the San Diego game, when he won it.
Q: On Justin Tuck…
A: We’re very excited about what Justin brings. First and foremost, we like his ability. People are making a big deal about his leadership, but Justin has an ability to beat guys one-on-one in the run and pass game. We’re very excited about that. He also has position flexibility, which helps what we do with multiple fronts. We couldn’t be happier that he’s in the building.
Q: On the addition of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers…
A: T. Brown, I can’t say enough about him. I was outside linebackers coach in San Francisco when he was a rookie, and he’s grown as a person and a player. He’s a technician. He knows everything that’s happening to him during routes. He’s a studier. He’s paying attention all the time because he wants to be great. That’s been good for some of our young secondary members.
It’s been good to see Carlos Rogers, a pro who can play inside and outside corner. In this division, you need an inside corner who can do some different things both in a zone and blitz when appropriate. Those two players give us experience. They give us quality adjustments and quality play.
Q: On evaluating Tarver’s own performance last year…
A: I like the question. You have a lot of time in the offseason before you see the players, and you reflect on yourself. I thought we made some stride early in the year and played well when we were healthy. I love that we never cared where we got the ball. We’ve don some things well in terms of three-and-outs, and our run defense has steadily increased since this staff has been in the building.
What we need to do better is this: If a pass is completed, we need more hats around the football. We didn’t do that enough at times last year. We need to get off the field quicker, to shorten these drives so we don’t wear ourselves out. It’s our job to get the ball back for the offense. That’s our emphasis. We’ve done some good things. We need to take that run defense and make it better and makes sure we get guys down.