ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Whether by design or not, the hirings of head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. should have a significant impact on the career of Raiders' linebacker Khalil Mack.
Del Rio and Norton both played linebacker in the NFL and were teammates briefly in Dallas. That common bond was key in Oakland's decision to name Norton the team's new defensive coordinator on Friday.
Both men will play key roles in the development of the Raiders defense. Norton has already said he will call the plays but Del Rio will also have a major say-so in the matter.
Their biggest influence, though, will likely be on Mack.
Oakland's first-round pick in 2014, Mack had an outstanding first season in the NFL while emerging as a unique force defensively. His combination of raw speed and power helped Mack get off to a fast start and he continued to grow and get better each week.
Del Rio and Norton hope to harness that athleticism and get Mack to the next level after he finished third in the defensive rookie of the year voting.
"I've been very, very impressed," Norton said of Mack. "One thing I have with my linebackers at Seattle, we do a great job of just watching other players across the league to see what they do well. See the type of things that I can help them coach and get themselves better and just see what is going on. Khalil Mack is a guy, with Bruce Irvin and the rest of my SAM linebackers, guys on the strong side, just watched his explosion, his speed, his combination of size and his strength … He's a really smart player and he loves playing ball. I've done really well with young men who have a knack of making plays and really love playing football."
It helps that both Del Rio and Norton spent some time in the NFL as players.
Del Rio played 11 years and was voted to the Pro Bowl in 1984 while with Minnesota. He finished his career with 941 tackles, 13 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries.
Norton's career was a little more decorated. The 13-year veteran was selected to the Pro Bowl three times, was an All-Pro in 1995 and had 1,130 tackles in his career.
Being successful players doesn't necessarily translate into being good coaches. The NFL history is peppered with guys who stood out on the field but floundered as assistant coaches.
Del Rio coached the Jacksonville Jaguars to a pair of playoff appearances then spent the past three years in Denver. Norton was a successful linebackers coach in college who had similar success in the NFL, helping Seattle to a pair of Super Bowl appearances while helping mold the Seahawks defense into one of the best in the league.
Although both men will have extra duties in their current capacity, expect to see them working overtime with Mack along with defensive end Justin Tuck. Tuck had a tremendous impact on Mack during Mack's rookie season and look to do more of that in 2015.
By all accounts, Mack is a beast on defense and a potential cornerstone of the Raiders franchise for years to come. He'll be the first to acknowledge he still has plenty to learn and realizes he is still in the infancy of his NFL career. For every big play he made, there is much Mack can improve on.
That's where Del Rio and Norton come in. As former players themselves, they can relate to what Mack is going through more than former defensive coordinator Jason Tarver could. Additionally, the two can also offer the coaching perspective, in essence giving Mack the best of both worlds.
It might not have been how general manager Reggie McKenzie planned it but at least on paper it looks like a very beneficial situation for Mack and the Raiders overall defense.