ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Khalil Mack and Menelik Watson were Oakland Raiders teammates for three seasons, from 2014-16, and yes, they had their share of practice battles.
Mack, as the edge rusher coming from the left side of the 4-3 base defense, and Watson, as the right tackle, came to Oakland in the 2014 and 2013 drafts as first- and second-rounders, respectively. But after Watson left Oakland for the Denver Broncos via free agency, Sunday will mark the first time they face off in a regular-season game.
Surely Mack, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, is champing at the bit to add to his two sacks thus far with Watson as his foe?
Mack is taking the gracious route.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Mack told Denver media Wednesday on a conference call ahead of Sunday's meeting between the AFC West rivals, both 2-1. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I remember at practice, I’d go against him all the time and he’s one of my favorite players to go against. It’s going to be a big battle.”
Mack’s coming-out party came in Denver in 2015, when he sacked Brock Osweiler five times.
Now, Mack might not reach that number at Sports Authority Field this weekend against Watson -- surely the Broncos will give him help with an extra tight end or running back to chip Mack -- but Mack has been dealing with double- and triple-teams for a while now. And that would simply open up one-on-on matchups for the likes of Bruce Irvin, Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Vanderdoes inside.
“Yeah, you know where he is every time you break the huddle,” Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian said of Mack. “You’re not going to miss him, he’s not going to sneak up on you. No. 52, he’s on the right side or on the left side, you know where he’s going to be.
“He is All-Pro, what was he, Defensive Player of the Year? So he’s a great player and he’s going to show up at some point in the game. Guys like that make a difference; we just have to make sure we keep him under control.”
And what does Watson -- whose six sacks allowed are the most by any tackle this season, per Pro Football Focus, and who has also surrendered eight quarterback pressures -- bring to the matchup?
“Physicality, that’s the first thing you think of,” Siemian said. “He’s got an edge to him, and he’s part of the reason that group has taken on that mindset.
“Lucky to have him here and he’s played well so far.”
But well enough to contain or even stop Mack, what with his knowledge of the Raiders pass-rusher?
“I hope so,’’ Siemian said.