Mack listed as starting defensive end

Plenty of changes should be on the horizon for the Oakland Raiders.

They’ve been building a respectable NFL roster over the last three offseasons and it now looks pretty complete.

It has nearly every player drafted by general manager Reggie McKenzie. Some of the uses, though, are changing.

Linebacker Khalil Mack has practiced exclusively with the defensive line group and is being listed as the Raiders’ starting left end for the first preseason game of 2015.

It makes total sense given his set of skills. And the lack of available pass rushers makes the option a pretty easy one.

Still though, head coach Jack Del Rio downplayed the depth chart as just the handiwork of Oakland’s media relations staff and nothing more. He added:

“He played a full season at the SAM linebacker. He’s a sub defensive end, so he’s playing both anyway. He’s a guy that will be able to do both.”

Mack spent Saturday afternoon showcasing his skills against left tackle Donald Penn — one of the best offensive tackles in football — and got to the simulated quarterback one of three times.

Which might not sound like much, except when considering that in 40 passing plays, that’s 13 sacks. Even one per game would put Mack near the all time sack leader, Michael Strahan who had 22-1/2 in 2001.

Mack has also added bulk this offseason, under the discretion of head coach Jack Del Rio, and seems to be planning  the full time switch to defensive end.

Mack touched on some of the differences between playing outside linebacker and defensive end:

“There’s not too much of a difference. The only difference is you can see a lot more when you’re standing up, and that’s what you have to do when you’re in that hybrid role. You have to see where the running backs are, you have to see if it’s a read-zone option type play, whether the running back is standing over and jumping across.”

A Tuck plus Mack pass rushing combination could be elite. And while it was expected that Mack would play end while the Raiders were in their sub packages, a full time switch was just a thought floating around.

This would seem to leave Sio Moore and Malcolm Smith as starters

A potential coup, though, could  be brewing at linebacker.

Ray Ray Armstrong, a guy who the Raiders picked up from St. Louis off waivers, has looked good enough where coaches will need to find ways to get him on the field.

And that might come at the expense of Moore‘s time on the field. At least for now.

Armstrong is a special teams ace, and has carved out a living making open field tackles, but he’s quickly becoming a very skilled linebacker.

Moore is coming off a major hip injury, but has played a solid two seasons since being drafted. Lofton is one of only a few who has virtually nobody nipping at his heels, and Armstrong doesn’t play middle.

It’s early, again, and the things going on in camp might not be anything more than coaches getting closer looks at different things. That’s what Del Rio will likely claim through preseason.

But it’s telling that, even if Moore’s potential demotion isn’t anything more than a publicity stunt, the Raiders chose to list him as a reserve.

Coaches have yet to see much of him, and though he’s played well over the last two seasons, the new staff will only see what they can see now.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.