With Khalil Mack gone, Raiders’ defensive end Bruce Irvin says the pressure is on him and his teammates to take their pass-rush game to a higher level.
Irvin will start at one defensive end in the season opener Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, backed up by Arden Key. On the other side, it’ll be Tank Carradine backed up by Fadol Brown. On the inside, starters P.J. Hall and Justin Ellis will rotate with backups Maurice Hurst and Brian Price, recently signed from the Cowboys. Before, it was Mack and his supporting cast. Now some stars will have to emerge from that cast, and Irvin, Key, Brown and Hurst may be the players most likely to do it.
Irvin, who’s making the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end this season, has 37 career sacks but has never had 10 or more in a season.
“That’s always my goal,” he told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com this week. “At the end of the day, I’ve got a bunch of people counting on me. I’ve got a bunch of dudes looking up to me now so I just want to go out there and lead by example. Lead by my play. Lead by how I work during the week.”
Earlier this week, head coach Jon Gruden said that with Mack gone, “It’s Arden Key’s time. Bruce Irvin has to step up.” According to Gutierrez, Irvin approached Gruden Monday morning to tell him, “I think you got it backward. It’s Bruce Irvin’s time and Arden Key’s got to step up.”
Rookies Key and Hurst on the inside certainly give the Raiders hope as pass rushers. Key at LSU was a terrific talent who slipped his final year in college but had a good summer with the Raiders. Hurst, one of the finest defensive tackles ever at Michigan, showed in training camp and exhibition action that he can power through blockers to put pressure up the middle.
Key says he must produce. The team needs him.
“I’m ready to go,” Key told Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I thought for sure a deal would get done with Khalil. It was sort of quiet around here when we found out about (the trade). But now everyone has moved on. He’s gone so I’m up next.”
New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes if he can use all the linemen to their best advantage – mixing and matching for situations – he can get the best out of them.
“We have a lot of different abilities on the defensive side and it’s our job and my job as the coordinator to get these guys in the best position that you see with what they got.”
The Raiders-Rams game Monday at O.co Coliseum is set to kick off at 7:20.