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What’s In A Number?

In recent memory, linebackers that have worn the number 52 jersey have turned out to become impact players in the National Football League. Former and current players such as Clay Matthews, Patrick Willis, and Ray Lewis combined for a total of 25 Pro Bowl appearances and four trips to the Super Bowl. Those stats alone are some pretty tough acts to follow for second-year linebacker, Khalil Mack.

Mack has shown the same tenacity that his predecessors who wore the famous number 52 jersey. In his rookie season, Mack recorded four sacks and finished third in voting behind eventual AP Defensive Rookie of the Year winner Aaron Donald. The Raiders plans to have Mack as their primary pass-rusher, and they want to see it pay off with more signal callers on the ground.

If the Raiders expectations come to fruition, they will have one of the biggest 1st round steals in recent draft history. Mack was overlooked in the 2014 NFL Draft by his counterpart Jadaveon Clowney, who was selected first overall by the Houston Texans. Clowney missed the majority of the 2014 season with a right knee ailment. On the other hand, Khalil Mack became an impact player on the Raiders defense. Even though he only recorded four sacks in 2014, he still solidified himself as a household name among Raider fans.

The Raiders will look to improve on what the defense accomplished in 2014. Defensive end Justin Tuck returns to a young defense that will need his mentorship in a possibly tough AFC West. Tuck saved the Raiders on Thursday Night Football when fellow teammates Sio Moore and Khalil Mack celebrated excessively after sacking Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Perhaps Moore and Mack thought it was third down or perhaps was not thinking at all.

The reason for the big commotion was because Moore sprinted down the field and celebrated as the Raiders had just won the Super Bowl. Tuck quickly called a timeout that saved the Raiders from an embarrassing penalty. Those rookie mistakes cannot happen in 2015 for the Raiders. Imagine if that was Peyton Manning recovering from that sack in the same situation? In an attempt to bolster his low sack total, Mack put on 10 pounds of lean muscle mass.

Mack knows that his primary objective is to increase his sack totals. Those accomplishments will not come easy. The Raiders are in a division that contains two of the best signal-callers in the game in Peyton and Phillip Rivers. Mack and the Raiders should not overlook Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith as well. The Chiefs added wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to a struggling offense that not one wide receiver had a touchdown reception in 2014.

The potential damage of what both Jeremy Maclin and Jamaal Charles can do in head coach Andy Reid’s scheme could be crucial for the Raiders. Just like the players before him that wore the number 52, Mack will also experience some growing pains in the National Football League. Mack can cut down on those pains if he takes the advice from new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and successfully apply it to the field.

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Derrick Branch is the founder and lead writer of Tops Sports.Com. He is a die-hard sports fan and keeps it 100 on all things that involve the NFL, NBA, NCAA Football.
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