Pettine offers high praise for Khalil Mack

Alex Mack and the Pro Bowl center's long-term future with the Cleveland Browns has been a prominent part of offseason chatter involving the team.

Could another Mack also be in the Browns’ discussions as they re-shape their roster under new general manager Ray Farmer and first-year coach Mike Pettine?

The latter spoke glowingly about Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, one of the top players in the draft, this week at the NFL owners meetings.

“Explosive athlete,” Pettine said. “He’s a guy that the tape backs it up. He can play on the ball, he can play off the ball, he plays violently, and he’s played some of his better games against better competition.”

The Browns have already added key pieces to a defense that includes Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, and last season they used the sixth overall pick on outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, whom they are expecting to make a big jump this season.

All signs point to Cleveland going offense with the fourth overall pick of the draft, and perhaps taking their quarterback of the future.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is also a strong possibility for the Browns at No. 4, since pairing him with Josh Gordon and emerging tight end Jordan Cameron would give whoever plays quarterback for Cleveland every chance to succeed assuming Watkins is as good as advertised.

But Pettine is clearly intrigued by Mack, whose skill set defies scheme and is ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s third-best player in the draft.

“Our history in the system is we would move a guy like that around,” Pettine said. “When you have a guy that's a special player like that, not that he's played the same position as Mario (Williams), but what we did with Mario in Buffalo, he didn't line up as the left defensive end all the time.

“He was on the left, he was on the right, he was standing up, he was inside as the three, he was on the nose sometimes, we actually stood him up a couple times, so I think when you have a special guy like that, I think his home base will be outside, but we'll look to move him all around to take advantage of his ability.”

Pettine’s praise of Mack could reflect his background as a defensive coach. It could also be a smoke screen since there are never any shortages of those leading up to the draft.

And no matter how highly Pettine thinks of Mack, the Browns’ needs on offense might outweigh adding a player who has the look of a future Pro Bowler.

But Pettine also made it clear the Browns are keeping their options with their first pick of the draft (i,e. don’t assume they will take a quarterback).

Picking Mack, if he is still available, might not move the needle much in Cleveland, but it would make the Browns a better team.

And they would still have two more picks in the top 35 to address their offense.