In his very first exhibition game for the New York Giants in 1981, rookie linebacker Lawrence Taylor had two sacks against the Chicago Bears, backing up all the buzz in the team’s training camp that summer that he was something special.
Taylor picked up the nickname “Superman” from teammates that summer, and quarterback Phil Simms said Taylor was a player like no other.
“On the pass rush, he’s an animal,” Simms told the New York Times at the time. “He’s either going to run around you or over you. With his quickness, he’s full speed at two steps.”
Taylor, of course, was indeed terrific. He went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Giants and set the standard for pass-rushing linebackers with 132.5 sacks. So, comparing any linebacker to Taylor – especially a rookie – is unfair.
Yet after all the news coming out of training camp earlier this summer that Raiders’ No. 1 pick Khalil Mack was wowing coaches and teammates, Raiders fans were eager to see him unleashed in exhibition games. But in those two games, against the Vikings and Lions, Mack has been quiet.
Raiders fans on Twitter during the past two games have been asking the question, “Where is Mack? When is Mack going to start doing something?”
And Tim Kawakami, longtime columnist for the Bay Area News Group, wrote after the Friday night victory over the Lions that Mack has been strangely unproductive recently.
“Obviously it’s very early in Mack’s career and he should step in as a good producer right away,” he wrote. “But is he going to be the immediately dominant playmaker (head coach Dennis) Allen’s defense badly needs? So far there are zero signs of that.”
Mack did get his first sack against the Lions, taking down backup quarterback Kellen Moore late in the third quarter, but it came against Detroit backups. Against the first team, Mack barely made a ripple of difference.
Allen, of course, says Mack needs time.
“It’s numbers of plays, it’s trying to get his play count up,” Allen told reporters. “The only way you can get better is get experience. I know he was a high draft choice, but he needs to play.”
Allen did acknowledge, however, that Mack hasn’t done much to meet the expectations of Raiders fans, who want to see a high-impact difference-maker in 2014.
“Well, obviously there wasn’t a ton of production from the standpoint of tackles or assists or sacks or whatever the case may be,” Allen told the San Jose Mercury News of the first two preseason games. “But I thought he made improvement from where he was at last week. We’ll have plenty of more opportunities to do some different things and get him maybe a little more involved.”
Then again, the Raiders would be wise to be low key with Mack this preseason. It does them no good to tip their hand on how they intend to use him this season – moving him all over the field – in August.
His teammates say Mack is a rare talent, and in recent joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys, Mack got the best of Dallas offensive tackle Tyron Smith, a Pro Bowler in 2013 who has been very good this preseason.
Rowan Kavner, who writes for DallasCowboys.com, said Smith couldn’t contain Mack in drills. “Khalil Mack did better 1 on 1 against Tyron than I’ve seen anyone do at camp,” Kavner wrote. “Usually just destroys everyone.”
So, are the Raiders being coy with Mack in the preseason? Or will Mack finally get some wow moments this Friday night against the Packers?
Oakland fans are eager to find out.