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Jon Gruden issues challenge to Mario Edwards to be his Warren Sapp

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Jon Gruden is looking to get more out of Mario Edwards Jr. to help Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders’ pass rush.

Oakland Raiders v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

You gotta love the way Jon Gruden is challenging his Oakland Raiders these days. Soon after he was brought back to coach of the team, he challenged Lynch to get himself in great shape so he can be a feature-back in Gruden’s “pound-the-rock” offense.

Not long after that, he challenged every early draft pick after the 2014 NFL Draft outside of Amari Cooper to step up. Then at the NFL Owners Meetings Tuesday, he challenged Mario Edwards Jr. to step up and help out his star edge-rusher Khalil Mack.

“[Khalil Mack] is a spectacular player. I don’t think he’s scratched the surface yet. I think if we can get a better inside pass rush, a more consistent inside rush, a dominant inside rusher, you’d see the best of this guy,” Gruden said. “Some of the plays he’s disrupted that he hasn’t gotten credit for are really exciting for us to think what could happen. So Mario Edwards [Jr.], if you’re listening out there, if we can get that inside rush going, that’s what Warren Sapp did for Simeon Rice. If it’s difficult for the quarterback to step up, these great pass rushers could have a feast. Mack is certainly a centerpiece of our football team, and we’d like to get a better inside rush for him to be even better.”

As a rookie in 2015, Edwards eventually fought his way into the starting lineup in relief of the injured Justin Tuck and gave Mack the interior pass rush he needed. Mack then had a career-high 15.0 sacks and the team had 38 sacks because opposing QBs couldn’t step up. Mack also saw more one-on-one blocking because of the heat Edwards brought.

In 2016, Mack earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year, despite Edwards missing 14 games. In 2017, the pass-rush started off well with Mack putting up 4.0 sacks in the first four games and Edwards adding 3.0 of his own. But as Edwards’ production fell off, so did Mack’s. Edwards would have just a half sack the rest of the season and the team finished with just 31 sacks.

Through the years, Edwards has had a positive effect on Mack and the Raiders when he’s right. One thing that could help him do that more consistently is moving to 3-technique, where he has just one gap and can just focus on getting up the field on each play.