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Khalil Mack turns heads at Raiders minicamp; Steelers won’t forget about running game

Posted Jun 20, 2014

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Le'Veon Bell, Khalil Mack, Jason Witten

Khalil Mack put on an impressive show during the Oakland Raiders’ offseason workouts, which culminated with a minicamp this week.

Teammates, as well as coaches, couldn’t help but gush about the tremendous display of athleticism that the rookie outside linebacker put on during the past month.

Offensive tackle Donald Penn told the San Francisco Chronicle that the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Mack, whom the Raiders made the fifth overall pick of last month’s NFL Draft, “moves like a defensive back.”

Penn also pointed out that Mack “has a motor that’s relentless.”

“You can see the impact that he can create,” said new Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub, who went as far as to compare Mack to former Houston Texans teammate J.J. Watt. “You can see his physical gifts and his ability to shed blockers and be able to disrupt the passer and the timing of the route.”

Raiders coach Dennis Allen offered another heady comparison. In his view, Mack’s combination of power, height and ability to bend as he moves is akin to Von Miller, the standout Denver linebacker that Allen saw up close when he was with the Broncos in 2011.

“I think he’s an outstanding talent,” Allen said of Mack. “I think he’s got a huge upside. If he continues to work the way that he has, I think he’ll fulfill those goals and the expectations that we have of him.”

STEELERS’ NO-HUDDLE OFFENSE STILL HAS ROOM FOR RUNNING GAME 

The main storyline from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason workouts has been their extensive use of an up-tempo, no-huddle offense.

The presumption is that the approach will place greater emphasis on the pass. But the Steelers, through player acquisitions and what they’ve done in offseason practices, hardly appear to be ignoring a running game that has ranked near the bottom of the NFL in each of the past two seasons.

Not only do they have Le’Veon Bell, their second-round draft pick in 2013, but they also added LeGarrette Blount in free agency and drafted speedy Dri Archer. Throw in versatile fullback Will Johnson, and you have what long-time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette says “could be their most-balanced running attack since Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker teamed up in 2005.”

“That’s big for us, because we used (the running game) a lot in the no-huddle, we used it a lot when we had Le’Veon back and healthy,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was quoted as saying in the Post-Gazette. “Now, I think we have a great complement to him in LeGarrette and even Dri Archer, getting him some different kind of runs and things. I think it will be a good weapon for us. When you have a good run game, you can really open up some things down the field.”

COWBOYS INCORPORATE SWIM-GOGGLE TRAINING FOR TIGHT ENDS

At 72, Mike Pope might not be the first person one would readily assume would be employing out-of-the-box training techniques.

But the Dallas Cowboys’ new tight ends coach has done exactly that during offseason workouts by having the members of his position group catch passes while wearing swim goggles.

“You kind of can’t see out of the corner of your eyes, so it keeps you focused on (having your head) take you to the ball,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was quoted as saying in the Dallas Morning News. “Today was our first day of doing it, so we’ll see how it goes … it’s a work in progress.”

Pope, has been an NFL assistant coach for 31 seasons (the last 14 with the New York Giants), also utilizes blocking sleds and medicine balls in the tight-ends practice regiment.

“Coach Pope has a lot of great techniques to help players get better as blockers, as receivers catching the football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I think our guys have all really embraced him and the different things that he has showed them that they haven’t seen before.”

JIM HASLETT ENCOURAGED BY REDSKINS’ INVESTMENT IN DEFENSE

For most of the past four seasons, the Washington Redskins did the majority of their spending on offense.

That changed during this offseason, with the Redskins investing heavily to keep outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive lineman Chris Baker, and to acquire defensive lineman Jason Hatcher from the Dallas Cowboys to improve their pass rush.

Hatcher, who might miss the start of training camp while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, had 11 sacks last season. It is expected that Orakpo and fellow Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will have greater opportunities to rush the quarterback.

“I like our guys, I really do,” Haslett was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. “We’ve got a good group. We’ve got some versatility to do different things. We’re going to try to take advantage of some of the guys we have.”

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