Paul Guenther: Khalil Mack the 'centerpiece' of Raiders defense

Khalil Mack's sack total has dropped each of the past three seasons, so maybe new leadership at defensive coordinator will reverse that trend. Photo by Icon Sportswire

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will be getting a highly motivated and very angry Khalil Mack when Jon Gruden's incoming Oakland Raiders coaching staff is able to work with the players.

As if Mack is not motivated and angry enough on his own.

But being snubbed by voters to the point where the reigning NFL defensive player of the year was not even named second-team All Pro despite remaining one of the more dominant players in the game?

Yeah, Guenther will be getting a gem.

"Having a talent like that and ability of a guy like that, certainly you want to make it the centerpiece of the defense," Guenther said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters last week.

"We have to continue to develop our younger players to bring those guys up to speed and add people as we go through the draft and free agency. [But Mack is] a guy that you can really build a foundation through and around. He's an exciting guy to be able to coach, for sure."

Mack, the No. 5 overall pick of the 2014 draft, is also in line for a contract extension this offseason after the Raiders exercised the fifth-year option on him last spring.

Many observers think there might be a staring contest between Mack's representatives and those representing Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald to see who sets the market.

Mack made history in 2015 as the first player named first-team All-Pro at two positions (defensive end and outside linebacker). In his Defensive Player of the Year season of 2016, he took over games with 11 sacks -- which included an 8-game sack streak -- a pick-six, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

He was asked last offseason about staying locked in with a payday on the horizon.

"That's the whole point, to stay focused, not even really worry about that," Mack said at the time. "That stuff will take care of itself. You have agents and those types of people to worry about that for you. That's the whole point with us, for sure. You can talk about it here and there, the focus really comes down to winning ball games and grinding with your teammates and brothers and making this experience worth a lifetime. You have to approach this season like it's your last."

Mack followed it up with 10.5 sacks, a five-game sack streak, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 92.1, the fifth-highest among edge rushers in the NFL. So maybe the voters were onto something after all?

In any event, Mack's sacks have gone down from 15 to 11 to 10.5 and many in Raiders headquarters would prefer Guenther dial up more blitzes to free Mack up.

Guenther, as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, blitzed much less last season than the Raiders, 16.6 percent to 23.4 percent of defensive snaps. Both teams employed 4-3 base defenses.

So might Guenther blitz more in Oakland with Mack as his "centerpiece?"

"Well, it all depends on how many we can get home with four (rushers)," Guenther said. "I think the thing you really have to look at is the amount of pressure you're getting on a quarterback -- if you don't have to blitz and you can get home with four guys.

"I love blitzing, I got every blitz in the book up on my board here. We got it all -- double A's, overloads -- any blitz you can imagine, we have it ... really, what I'd like to try to do is get Khalil Mack one-on-one. That's more of a blitz to me than anything, to get him on a tight end or a running back or a tackle that we feel we love the matchup on."