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Raiders’ Quick Slants: Season Opener Edition

Return of the (Khalil) Mack; darting from here and there, as Las Vegas preps for the L.A. Chargers

NFL: Chicago Bears at Las Vegas Raiders
The last time Khalil Mack, left, faced Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) was on Oct. 10, 2021 and the pass rusher had eight total tackles and a in Las Vegas.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When Derek Carr looks to his left or right, he’ll have one of his best friends alongside him. When the Las Vegas Raiders franchise quarterback looks across the line of scrimmage, he’ll see another close friend opposite him.

Such is life the captain of the Silver & Black’s offense this Sunday when the team goes toe-to-toe with it’s AFC West foe — the Los Angeles Chargers — to open the 2022 campaign.

A once-upon-a-time-type pipe dream NFL reunion of Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams becomes official in the Sunday afternoon clash. The DC4-DA17 combo hasn’t been seen on the gridiron since both were tearing up the competition at Fresno State.

Flip it to the Bolts’ side of the ball and Carr will have one of his first Raiders’ best friends Khalil Mack staring him down. The new season marks the return of the Mack to the division and instead of the Silver & Black he once wore, the pass rusher will sport the Chargers’ powder blue — a sight that many may find awkward.

Carr already faced Mack — twice — when the latter was with the Chicago Bears and the record sits at one win, one loss for the quarterback and pass rusher. Chicago did best Las Vegas in Sin City back in October of 2021 in a 20-9 drubbing. As a Bear or Charger, Carr’s relationship with Mack — built during their time in Oakland as the cornerstone’s of the franchise — won’t change.

“I mean, Khalil – I’ve always said – he’s a Hall of Fame player,” Carr said when asked about how Mack changes the Chargers’ defense. “Playing alongside Joey (Bosa), who I think is one of the best players in all of football. I really respect the way that they both play the game, and the way that they go about their business. Khalil, he’s always been one of my best friends, and we always talk it seems like every other week, except when we play each other ... But past that, he’s a Hall of Fame-type player. Him and Joey are great rushers in this league and have been for a long time. So, we have our work cut out for us.”

With a fearsome edge rush duo at Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley’s disposal, expect the defensive-minded coach to put Mack and Bosa in the best possible position to succeed. Ditto for Josh McDaniels, as he’ll put his Raiders offense in the best possible spots to succeed.

“They’ve really gone out and tried to make their team better, and they have. I’ve competed against both (Bosa and Mack) multiple times, and thankfully never on the same field at the same time,” McDaniels said. “You could kind of put maybe more attention to one than the other, if you will. You got to do a good job. There are no shortcuts around this one, you have to do a good job of using your techniques and playing with good fundamentals. We have to do a good job of trying to get the ball out on time, when we’re supposed to. You pick your spots when you’re going to try to do something and hold the ball longer, or what have you, based on the play you’re trying to accomplish. This is a big challenge.”

Let’s hit the quick slants as fast as the Week 1 has arrived:

—Adams is adept at getting open very quickly at the line of scrimmage. His separation skill is going to be paramount if the Raiders want to get the ball out on time. And he knows it.

“That’s basically the mindset, just keep showing my quarterback as early as possible so he knows he doesn’t have to sit there and hold onto the ball, and he can trust me,” Adams noted. “If I’ve got an out route or whatever, if I get rid of the guy, it makes the quarterback feel a lot better knowing if he sees you running without anybody hanging all over you. So, I’ve just kind of kept that mentality the whole time just to make it as easy as possible on my quarterback.”

—Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson hasn’t officially been ruled out but his status for the Week 1 opener is murky. He did have ankle surgery a couple of weeks ago and one can surmise his absence in the Bolts’ secondary would be a tremendous boon for the Raiders.

—Raiders slot dynamo Hunter Renfrow is listed as the primary punt returner on the team’s official depth chart. While I was wary of this after first — due to putting Renfrow in additional harm’s way on special teams — McDaniels is following the New England Patriots’ penchant to place the best players on special teams regardless of importance to offense.

—Running back Ameer Abdullah is the Raiders primary kick returner with wide receiver Tyron Johnson as the backup. The receiving/change-of-pace tailback is slated for a James White-type role in McDaniels offense.

—Andrew Billings is listed as the first-team defensive tackle alongside Bilal Nichols. Johnathan Hankins, the Raiders starting nose tackle last season is listed behind Billings. Both Billings (6-foot-1, 328 pound) and Hankins (6-foot-3, 340 pounds) have the requisite size to occupy blocks and clog running lanes.

—Clelin Ferrell is listed as the direct backup to Chandler Jones at defensive end. Despite missing a chunk of training camp and preseason due to injury, Ferrell is ahead of Malcolm Koonce.