NAPA, Calif. — After two straight seasons with All-Pro honors and winning the AP Defensive Player of the Year last season, Khalil Mack has set his goals for 2017 quite high.
He just wasn’t expecting Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to make public his quest for 30 sacks, which would crush Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22 1/2 set in 2001 and might seem a bit out of reach to most outsiders.
“That’s the number I shoot for, but I didn’t want him to tell everybody else,” Mack said. “But at the same time, D.C., he knows how hard we work, what kind of work we put in, and he knows what I want but at the same time. Realistically, we just want to get the record at least.”
Mack’s career high in sacks is 15 set in his second season back in 2015. He had only 11 last season when he had to deal with offensive schemes designed to limit his impact, overcome frequent holds that sometimes went uncalled and got little help from an interior pass rush that failed to generate consistent pressure.
Despite those hurdles, Mack still ranked second in the NFL with 64 quarterback pressures, according to SportRadar, in a sign that there are more sacks for him to get this season.
Mack also spent part of the offseason getting pass rushing tips from a rival, Denver star Von Miller. Mack attended “The Von Miller Pass Rush Summit” at Stanford with more than a dozen other NFL stars there like recently retired star DeMarcus Ware, 2016 NFL sack leader Vic Beasley and No. 3 overall draft pick Solomon Thomas of San Francisco.
Mack said it was a great experience and he got a lot of tips from Ware that he hopes to use this season.
“Just pulling for each other’s mindset and figuring out what it is that we’re good at and sharing with everybody else,” he said. “It was dope.”
That was far from the only example of NFL players from different teams getting together in the offseason to trade secrets and offer tidbits. Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett brings several teammates and other players to Hawaii for workouts.
San Francisco defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was part of the gathering and said he got great advice from Bennett on the best way to use his hands on the pass rush and how to fit into the 49ers’ new defense that is similar to the one the Seahawks have run for years.
Buckner said getting tips from a current star is sometimes more helpful than what he hears from his own coaches. The praise he got from Bennett only added to his confidence.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘You’re big and strong. You don’t have to doing all those fancy little things that edge rushers do like Von Miller,'” Buckner said. “He just told me to be a force. Do what you can do and one day kids will say, ‘I want to be like DeForest.'”
They are already saying that about Mack.
The fifth overall pick out of Buffalo in 2014, Mack has quickly emerged as one of the game’s top defensive players and soon could become one of its highest paid.
The Raiders exercised the fifth-year option on Mack to keep him under contract through 2018 but general manager Reggie McKenzie has said that locking Mack up with a long-term deal will be a high priority next season.
Mack has already proven to be an elite run stopper, a dominant rusher and one of the hardest workers in the game. He has also developed into more of a leader and teacher as he gains experience and is spending this camp passing on tidbits to some younger players in hopes that if they do a better job of pressuring the quarterback, the defense will improve and he will get more sacks.
The Raiders were last in the NFL with 25 sacks last season and 18 of them came from Mack and Bruce Irvin.
“That’s the most important thing they need to kind of understand. It’s everybody. It’s all four guys rushing the passer,” he said. “It’s everybody being on the same page and everybody understanding rush lanes and all the different moves that you can use based on different scenarios and different situations. That’s what I feel like this year is going to be different for us, that inside pressure and yeah, we’re going to be screaming on the outside me and Bruce, and it’s going to be special. I can’t wait.”
NOTES: McKenzie professed his support for Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn and said he wants him back in camp quickly. Penn is holding out because he wants a better contract than the one that is scheduled to pay him $5.8 million in base salary this season with another $1.3 million in incentives and bonuses. “He has a deal,” McKenzie said. “”I want him in camp. We don’t talk contracts until a guy is here.”