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Khalil Mack deemed "almost unblockable", still improving "sky's the limit"

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

As the season has rolled along, the buzz surrounding Raiders' rookie linebacker, Khalil Mack has gained a lot of steam. There is often buzz surrounding players who were chosen as high as Mack was in the draft. But this is different. The buzz is getting louder with each passing game. That's because as good as he was when he was drafted, he's actually improving.

Those who may not have seen the Raiders play this season, will look at the stat box, see Mack hasn't recorded a sack, and write him off. Add the fact that he is playing for a winless team and they simply see a 'good' player on a bad team. A big fish in a small pond, if you will.

But for those who actually watch, they see something else. They see a player who is disruptive in every facet of his game. And they see a player who only gets more and more unstoppable every week.

"You can't think about losing. You have to think about progressing and getting better, especially from a player aspect. You can only do what you can control and I'm going out every week and trying to do my job. That's all I can control. That's all we're looking forward to is the next game now and trying to go get that next win."

This week the Raiders travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. Head coach, Pete Carroll, made it clear on Wednesday that the threat Mack poses has not gone unnoticed.

"I think he's really good," said Carroll. "He jumps off the film. Every one of our coaches, when they break up and start looking at the Raiders and taking seriously what they're doing well, everybody comes back talking about him. He's almost unblockable and he's got a great motor. He's fast, he's tough, he's instinctive. We think he's an obvious factor."

That is not unlike what Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said he and his team experienced facing Mack last week when he said Mack was "one of the best players we've gone against this year, and that's a unanimous decision in the locker room."

That's the latest game from Mack. And if you watched that game, not only was he a force in the run game, helping hold the Browns to a season low 1.6 yards per carry, but he was within inches of getting a sack on Hoyer several times. Leading many to believe it's only a matter of time. His defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver, is one such believer.

"He's improving every week," Tarver said of Mack. "And what he does is from the very start we've talking in here once a week about when he goes fast, when he starts fast on the line of scrimmage, leads with his hands, as powerful as the young man is, he can really knock people around. And he's improved and improved and improved. He's not letting formations mess with him anymore, so we're excited about him there. And in the run and the pass game, he's just continued to work. He's just needs to stay on this progression, he stays on this progression, the sky's the limit."

If you need proof of that upward mobility Mack is experiencing, Pro Football Focus has the proof. In the season opener in New York, Mack has his lowest grade of the season -- +0.4. Last week against the Browns his grade was +6.1 with an overall grade of +23.0. And while he had just three QB hurries over the first four weeks, he has had 14 over the past three weeks.

The Raiders liked Mack's all around game coming out of college. The concern about the lack of sacks is understandable. The improvd pressures and hurries shows evidence that the next step is sacks.

"They'll come," said Tarver of Mack getting sacks. "Just keep pressuring the heck out of them and make sure everybody knows who we are and where's 52 and that stuff will happen. As long as he's around the ball, we're happy."

"Khalil is very tough mentally and he learns from anything that happens to him, so he's improved quickly in those areas. . . that's what we liked about this young man is we could see his learning process. He didn't like being wrong. He learns. And so in the run game it's getting harder and harder to trick him. Sometimes [young] players come in that they're exceptional, they're just super quick or they got the longest arms ever so they just swim guys or they use their natural ability. He's using both. He's using his ability and also his learning. So, we like where he's headed."

Today's NFL puts a lot of emphasis on sacks. It seems a bit too much emphasis at times. But that's just the nature of the beast. Mack knows this and not having bagged a quarterback weighs on him.

"It's something that's constantly on my mind," said Mack. "All my teammates talk about it. It'll come soon enough, but even then I'm working hard to get there. . . It's all timing. It's all due time. I feel like the quarterbacks now are getting the ball out fast and in order to get there you have to get there fast. So I'm just working on getting there fast."

It won't get any easier this week when the Raiders face the extremely mobile and talented Russell Wilson. Add Marshawn Lynch to the mix, and it presents a new challenge among many new challenges for Mack this season. Another line on his resume. One that is already pretty impressive. Even without a sack. And we're not even at the halfway point of his rookie season.