Raiders open with­out Mack

Manteca Bulletin - - Sports -

OAK­LAND (AP) — The Los An­ge­les Rams and Oak­land Raiders spent most of the lead-up to the sea­son in the same predica­ment, with their De­fen­sive Play­ers of the Year hold­ing out while seek­ing new con­tracts.

When the teams open the sea­son against each other Mon­day night in Oak­land, that will have changed. The Rams will have last year’s win­ner of the league’s top de­fen­sive award on the field an­chor­ing the mid­dle in Aaron Don­ald. The Raiders will be with­out 2016 win­ner Khalil Mack, who was traded to Chicago.

The Raiders dealt Mack for a pack­age in­clud­ing two first-round draft picks a day af­ter Don­ald signed a six-year, $135 mil­lion deal, with $87 mil­lion guar­an­teed. Oak­land was un­will­ing to pay that price for Mack, forc­ing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Guen­ther to shelve plans he made af­ter get­ting hired on how to use Mack, and pro­ceed the way he ap­proached train­ing camp with the rest of the over­hauled de­fense.

“I think I saw the guy in a restau­rant in March one time,” Guen­ther said. “My kids pointed it out to me, ‘Hey, its Khalil Mack. He’s got the new Jor­dans on.’ You know, I wouldn’t know. With as many new play­ers we brought in, new coach­ing staff we just kind of got use to him not be­ing here and op­er­at­ing with what we got, so we are go­ing to move along that way.”

The Raiders spent much of the off­sea­son try­ing to im­prove their pass rush by mov­ing Bruce Irvin to a full-time de­fen­sive end po­si­tion, and draft­ing P.J. Hall, Ar­den Key and Mau­rice Hurst. That group helped gen­er­ate 12 sacks in the pre­sea­son and will have plenty of pres­sure start­ing Mon­day night to fill Mack’s void.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity for me and the rest of the guys on the D-line,” Key said. “That’s just another op­por­tu­nity. Khalil Mack is gone. We can’t dwell on it. We have to move for­ward and some­body has to step up in his spot.”

The Rams said they weren’t ex­actly up­set to see Mack traded, con­sid­er­ing he has av­er­aged more than 12 sacks and 60 quar­ter­back pres-

sures over the last three sea­sons. But they noted they still have to face Mack in Week 14 and that the Raiders’ other rush­ers present enough of a chal­lenge this week.

“He’s a great player, and he’s not go­ing to be on the team we’re play­ing this week, but they’ve got plenty of good play­ers, and they’ve got a great de­fense and a great team that we’re pre­par­ing for,” quar­ter­back Jared Goff said. “We’re not think­ing very much about Khalil right now.”

The Raiders have plenty to worry about on Los An­ge­les’ de­fense now that Don­ald is back to team with three for­mer All-Pros added this off­sea­son: de­fen­sive tackle Ndamukong Suh, cor­ner­backs Mar­cus Peters and Aqib Talib.

The new-look lineup gives co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips one of the game’s best pair of cor­ner­backs in Peters and Talib, as well as in­te­rior rush­ers in Don­ald and Suh.

The Raiders have a good idea what to ex­pect with Peters and Talib hav­ing spent the past few years in the AFC West; Oak­land play­ing against Suh in Mi­ami last year; and Phillips serv­ing as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Den­ver in 2015-16 when he faced the Raiders four times over­all.

“They’re all great play­ers,” quar­ter­back Derek Carr said. “They have a great team, great de­fense. Great chal­lenge they present us. Then (de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor) coach Phillips call­ing it. I’ve gone against him a num­ber of times. He does his stuff, man, and he’s re­ally good at it. It’s go­ing to be a good chal­lenge for us. I can sit here and talk good things about all those guys. They know how I feel about them, they’re great play­ers.”

The Rams have spent the past week in­cor­po­rat­ing Don­ald into the mix af­ter he held out all off­sea­son and train­ing camp.

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