ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Khalil Mack made history as the first player to be named first-team All-Pro at two positions in 2015, with Ken Norton Jr. as his defensive coordinator. Then Mack was named NFL defensive player of the year last season.
Neither player seemed to take Norton’s firing Tuesday well, and neither practiced Wednesday. Their absences were not injury-related, and the Raiders said the two were given a "rest day" from practice. It is Irvin’s first missed practice of the season and Mack’s first absence since the first week.
“I like to keep my thoughts private,” Mack said in the Raiders' locker room.
“Nah, I ain’t talking, bruh,” Irvin said. “You know I ain’t talking about that today.”
A day earlier, though, Irvin seemed to let his feelings be known when he sent a one-word tweet that read “BULLS---” in the wake of Norton’s firing.
Asked if the tweet was related, Irvin shrugged and moved on. At the start of practice, Irvin had a quick talk with Raiders coach Jack Del Rio before walking off.
Asked how he tried to “handle” a player such as Irvin who might disagree with the decision, Del Rio said he would not “handle” him.
“I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space, and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work,” Del Rio said. “But I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”
Under Norton, the Raiders (4-6) had the NFL’s No. 22-ranked total defense in 2015 (giving up an average of 363.6 yards per game), No. 26 in 2016 (375.1 YPG) and No. 26 through 10 games this season (367.1 YPG).
Middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who joined the Raiders last month, also declined to comment on the move, which left John Pagano in charge of the defense.
Del Rio pointed out that the Raiders are minus-9 in turnover differential -- Oakland has yet to intercept a pass -- and rank just 31st in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert on 46 percent of their chances.
He also said the defense was not playing “fast enough” or “confident enough."
“We’re going to focus on the process,” Del Rio said. “I think one thing that’s maybe gotten away is the focus on winning. We need to win, we need to win, we need to win. Yeah, everybody needs to win. Everybody wants to win. For me, it’s about the process ... recover, prepare, compete.
“What does that mean when you’re recovering? The detail of what you’re doing. What does that mean in your preparation, how are we bringing to life the things we’re doing? The detail in the meetings, the detail on the practice field, the accountability, the principles that we believe in. Those are the things you have to fight for. When you do those things and you build your confidence, you play fast. I’ve been in this league a long time. I’ve been a part of some great defenses, and one common denominator is that they play fast. They play fast. I want to see us play fast.”
Pagano, who joined Del Rio’s staff as assistant head coach/defense this past offseason, was Chargers defensive coordinator the previous five years. The Chargers tied for the league lead in interceptions last season with 18.
Del Rio, a defensive-minded coach who signed a four-year contract extension with Oakland in February, said he sees Pagano staying on as his defensive playcaller.
But can a change in the staff create a spark for the Raiders before Sunday’s home game against the Denver Broncos (3-7), who also made a switch by firing Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator and elevating former Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave?
“Listen, I know one thing,” Del Rio said, “nobody should feel comfortable because what I’ve been watching is not good enough. Nobody should feel comfortable.”
Norton’s firing and Pagano’s ascension will also have an effect on Oakland's offense.
“It’s always hard because we put so much work in together,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We all genuinely care about each other just as people -- at least we do here. I talked to Coach Norton, texted him. Let him know how thankful I was for our time together and all those things. He sounded great. He sounded good ... but any time you lose someone who’s part of your family for so long, it always stings a little bit.
“But we have to move on. It’s just like when one of your best friends gets released or gets traded or anything like that. It’s, ‘Dang, bro. Love you man.’ You’ve got to move on ... that’s how this league works. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a part of it.”