When the Raiders take on the Vikings Friday night, Khalil Mack will be wearing No. 52.
And chances are, Oakland fans won’t be able to keep their eyes off him.
The fifth overall pick of the May draft, Mack has been a star of training camp. The outside linebacker has been getting outstanding reviews from teammates, coaches and the media who’ve seen him on the field and talked to him off it.
The Raiders have plenty of uncertainties as they head into their 2014 exhibition season opener in Minnesota, but Mack doesn’t appear to be one of them. So far, he looks as close to a sure thing as is possible for a rookie.
“I’ve seen a lot of defensive rookies come in over the years, but the differnce with this guy is, he’s more polished,” veteran Raiders offensive lineman Khalif Barnes told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group this week. “He has all the tools of an elite pass rusher in this league.”
Added another veteran, defensive tackle Pat Sims: “Best rookie in the draft, period.”
In training camp, Mack has been all over the field, sideline to sideline, and has shown speed and power on his pass rush. Raiders fans finally will get a chance Fridy night to see what the Raiders have been seeing every day.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said this week that Mack has given the Raiders defense a versatility and eye-opening talent they’ve lacked. While the Raiders aren’t likely to reveal any special defensive packages in their exhibition opener, it’s going to be impossible for fans to miss the way Mack moves on the field.
“What’s nice about Khalil is he has size and athletic ability, so that he can do some things on the edges of your defense, both in the run game and in the pass game, with his power, his length and his ability to bend and move,” Tarver told Josh Dubow of the Associated Press recently.
Head coach Dennis Allen believes Mack is special – and could have a major impact in 2014 – but cautions that he’s still young, still a work in progress. What fans see Friday night will be just a taste of what they see of Mack later this season.
“There’s still going to be a little bit of a learning curve,” he said.