NAPA – Khalil Mack can be hard to get a hold of these days. The Raiders edge rusher is withholding services in search of a big-money contract extension, and is keeping team officials at arm's length while agent Joel Segal handles contract talks.
Mack always picks up Bruce Irvin's call. The "Slash Bros." are extremely close, and stay in near-constant contact.
"He's working hard," Irvin said. "I talk to him every day. He misses (being in camp), but you know how it is. He's working his butt off to be ready."
There's zero doubt Mack is in immaculate shape. He's an extremely hard worker committed to his craft, and should hit the ground running when he reports to camp or the team's training facility in Alameda should his holdout carry on a few more weeks.
That's certainly possible. A deal is not close, a source says – it's uncertain how far apart they are -- and the holdout could last a while.
Mack is set to play the 2018 on a fully guaranteed fifth-year option worth $13.846 million.
Irvin is leading the defensive line at this point, though he and Mack shared that responsibility in the past. Irvin's a vocal presence counters Mack's strong, silent type with a little good cop/bad cop interplay to keep the line going strong.
"He has been a tremendous leader for us," Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "I'm glad to have him on my side."
Irvin isn't changing his style with Mack away from the team.
"If Khalil was here, I'd be leading the same way. We can't worry about who isn't here. Khalil gets tired. When he comes out of the game the guys here have to go win. Well, he rarely gets tired, but there will be moments when guys have to step up. Those guys have to be ready."
Young guys especially have to help Mack and Irvin off the edge. They're counting on rookie defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall and edge rusher Arden Key to play significant snaps to energize a defensive line far too reliant on Irvin and Mack in recent seasons.
"Mo Hurst is going to be good," Irvin said. "I like P.J., and Arden Key's one heck of a player. All three rookies are going to help us. They don't have a choice. We need them.
"They're picking things up and learning and working hard and paying their rookie dues."
The Raiders hope the rookies combine forces with Irvin and Mack to form a formidable front. Irvin has had an excellent start to training camp, and looks disruptive as ever from the defensive end spot.
The team is left to dream about how Mack will fit into this puzzle once he's here. Guenther has gotten creative trying to find one-on-one matchups with Mack, but isn't focused on him at this stage.
"I can't worry about that right now," Guenther said. "That's (general manager Reggie McKenzie's) deal. I'm coaching the guys who are out here. When he gets here – if he gets here – he'll be an exciting piece to add."