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News

Slash Brothers: Raiders Pair Mack and Irvin to Wreak Havoc

Posted Mar 11, 2016

Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, the newly minted Slash Brothers who have and can play either defensive end and/or linebacker, have the ability to wreak havoc on opposing offenses from anywhere on the field.

The Oakland Raiders defense already features Khalil Mack, the first player named First Team All-Pro at two positions – defensive end and linebacker – as he racked up 15 sacks, including a five-sack performance in a win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

First-year Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., used Mack in a variety of ways last season. Mack rushed the passer from both defensive end spots with his hand in the dirt, he blitzed from both outside linebacker spots, and he dropped in coverage.

Mack's two-position play earned him the nickname Slash from Latavius Murray and his teammates.

Now enter Bruce Irvin.

The Raiders signed the former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Thursday. Norton was Irvin’s linebackers coach with the ‘Hawks. Irvin lined up at both defensive end and linebacker during his time in the Pacific Northwest and has 22 career sacks since entering the NFL as a first round Draft choice out of West Virginia.

His versatility makes him worthy of the "slash" moniker as well.

Irvin is excited to be reunited with Norton, Jr., who he credits for helping him find his niche on Seattle’s top-notch defense. In 2013, Irvin was moved to strong-side linebacker after spending his rookie season at defensive end.

“He’s a great guy, one of the main reasons that I decided to get here. I wanted to get back with him,” Irvin said. “He’s done a lot for me, not only on the field, but off the field. He saved my career by bringing me from defensive end to a linebacker, so I have the utmost respect for that guy.”

NFL Media Columnist Jeffri Chadiha believes that reuniting with Norton, Jr., will be a good thing for Irvin and that the Raiders will maximize Irvin’s potential.

“Irvin is an interesting player because the Seahawks didn't really utilize him to his fullest potential. He's a gifted pass rusher, but Seattle often dropped him into pass coverage in their defense,” Chadiha wrote on NFL.com. “Now that he's reunited with Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. -- who was the Seahawks' linebackers coach when Irvin arrived as a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft -- expect a different player in the Oakland scheme. It's very likely that Norton will unleash Irvin in the same relentless fashion he allowed Mack to attack quarterbacks last season (when Mack finished with 15 sacks).”

NFL Media Analyst Bucky Brooks likes the move and says Irvin and Mack will complement each other.

“The Raiders reached into the free-agent bin to pluck a playmate for Khalil Mack on the edges,” Brooks wrote on NFL.com. “Irvin's skills as a frenetic speed rusher complement Mack's power game, giving the Raiders a deadly 1-2 punch off the corner.”

NFL Network analyst and former NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington says the pairing or Mack with Irvin gives the Raiders a dangerous duo.

“You add Bruce Irvin and his pass rush ability to Khalil Mack, that’s already there who is an emerging superstar, I think this becomes one of the more dangerous, dynamic duos immediately by adding him,” Arrington said. “When you look at what Bruce Irvin brought to the table as a pass rusher for Seattle, it was more situational. I think that they'll find a way schematically to use his talents a whole lot better, and obviously the familiarity with Ken Norton there should be good for them.” 

“Besides Norton, that was the next biggest thing, playing with Khalil,” Irvin said on a conference call with Bay Area media. “The guy’s a premiere rusher. He’s on his way to being one of the best rushers in the league.”   

Former New England Patriots linebacker and current NFL Network Analyst Willie McGinest likes the versatility the Raiders defense will be able to employ with Irvin’s addition.

“He’s big strong, physical, versatile, you can play him off the ball, you can cover, you watch Seattle, you can do a lot of different things with him, on third down you can put his hand in the dirt,” McGinest said. “It brings a little more to that pass rush, because now you can’t slide the protection or double-team Khalil Mack, who is another player that is interchangeable. You can move him around too. I would even put these guys on the same side and run games with them.” 

The Broncos once again proved that defense wins championship as linebacker Von Miller terrorized Cam Newton in a Super Bowl 50 victory. Miller was paired with fellow edge rusher DeMarcus Ware. The Kansas City Chiefs have built a defensive foundation that has been very effective the past few seasons with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.

“DeMarcus and Von laid the blueprint out in the Super Bowl – you’ve got to have rushers and tandem rushers at that,” Irvin said. “The AFC West, man, I look at it, it’s a lot of tandem rushers. You’ve got Houston and Tamba. You’ve got Ware and Von. You’ve got me and Mack. I’m looking forward to playing with him and benefiting off of him, because I know he’s going to draw so much attention, it’s going to leave me a lot of one-on-one situations, so I’ve got to make the best of them.”

After improving from 22 in 2014 to 38 sacks in 2015, the Raiders now have the potential to put two versatile, explosive players in concert with what became a formidable pass rush during the second half of last season. With the likes of defensive tackles Dan Williams and Justin Ellis in the middle of the defensive line, and the emergence of Denico Autry, adding Irvin gives the Raiders that makes the front seven go from formidable to downright scary with one stroke of a pen. 

There are still a few variables with the Raiders front seven. Will Aldon Smith re-sign? How is Mario Edwards Jr.’s health? Even without those two players in the conversation, Mack and Irvin, the Slash Brothers, have the ability to wreak havoc on opposing offenses from anywhere on the field.