There hasn't been a lot of players for coaches to get excited about on the Raiders recently. Last year they added their most exciting player in years when they drafted linebacker Khalil Mack at 5th overall.
The 6-3, 252-pound rookie was an imposing force last season both against the run and the pass, giving opposing offense's plenty to game plan for. But it wasn't just opposing offenses who were watching. As Raiders new Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr -- who was the linebackers coach for the Seahawks the past five seasons -- explains it, the defense was watching too.
"We've been very impressed," Norton said of the Seahawks' opinion of Mack. "One of the things I have with my linebackers at Seattle, we do a great job of looking at other players across the league to see what they do well, see the type of things that I can help coach and just see what's going on. And Khalil Mack is a guy that Bruce Irvin and the rest of my guys on the Sam linebacker side just watched his explosion, his speed, his combination of size and strength, and he's a really smart player and he loves playing ball. I've done really well with men who really have a knack of making plays and really love playing football."
Seattle have had one of the best defenses in the NFL the past few seasons. That includes the linebacking corps with guys like Bruce Irvin, K.J. Wright, and Bobby Wagner. They were a big reason why the Seahawks won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and made a return trip after this past season.
Those of us who have watched Mack closely this season as we've followed the Raiders came to realize just how special he was. Several times during the season opposing teams came to realize it as well; many of whom commented on it.
One of those teams was the Seahawks, who the Raiders played in Seattle in week nine. Prior to the game, Pete Carroll had some strong words to describe Mack.
"I think he's really good," Carroll said of Mack. "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."
As it turns out, one of those coaches was apparently Ken Norton Jr. He now gets the privilege of having Mack on his defense for his first ever Defensive Coordinator job. The defense will need a lot more work to in any way resemble the one in Seattle, but Khalil Mack is a great place to start.