Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr. don’t have a long, shared history as coaches.
But in just one season in Oakland, the pairing of the head coach and defensive coordinator proved to be the best at getting the most out of Khalil Mack.
Mack, a premier pass-rush specialist coming out of college, had an outstanding rookie season in 2014, yet had just four sacks. In 2015 under Del Rio and Norton, Mack had 15, as Del Rio and Norton moved him around the field, as both a linebacker and defensive end, and sending him more often against the quarterback.
According to Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group, Mack rushed the passer on 56.2 percent of his snaps in 2015, a 10 perrcent increase from 2014.
Now it appears the coaching duo plans to do the same thing with Bruce Irvin, the former Seahawks outside linebacker who signed with the Raiders in free agency. Irvin has played a disciplined role on Seattle’s premier defense. He’s been used in pass coverage as much as a pass rusher.
“Certainly want to take advantage of some of his abilities,” Del Rio said recently, about the signing of Irvin. “I think he’s a really good football player. He’s gifted athletically. Super long and fast and tough. We feel like the one area we’d like to use him more is the going forward part. He’s done a lot of coveage. He really is more natural at rushing.”
Irvin had eight sacks as a rookie in 2012, two in 2013, 6½ in 2014 and 5½ last season.
With Mack on one side and Irvin on the other, opposing offenses will have to devote plenty of resources to protecting the quarterback. It would be similar to the way offenses have to deal with the Broncos’ Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
“You add Bruce Irvin and his pass rushing ability to Khalil Mack … I think this becomes one of the more dangerous, dynamic duos immediately by adding him,” said former NFL linebacker and current NFL Network analyst LaVar Arrington.