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There has been one overarching theme to the Oakland Raiders preseason so far: The defense looks terrible.

It was bad in game one and far, far worse in game two. The highlights from the first unit are basically one sack from Khalil Mack and that’s about it. With the exception of Karl Joseph, the secondary looks absolutely lost. Sean Smith looks worse than he did last season. T.J. Carrie had a solid first game but then an awful showing against the Rams. David Amerson hasn’t been nearly as bad, but he also hasn’t been very good. And Reggie Nelson looks like he may have lost another step.

The linebackers look ok. They certainly aren’t the dumpster fire that the secondary has been. Marquel Lee and Cory James have had good moments and bad moments but nothing great or terrible. At the very least, they appear to be serviceable and the worst, below average. Sadly, that’s an upgrade over what the Raiders had in those positions last season.

Then there’s the defensive line. Khalil Mack has looked great. He’s going to have yet another outstanding season. But he’s not the reason to still have hope for the Raiders defense. It’s the guys around him that should give you hope.

Last season, the interior of the defensive line was absolutely horrible in the pass rush. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvindid well on the edges but got no assistance from the middle. So far this preseason, Mack and Irvin have reason to believe that will change in 2017. Mario Edwards, Jr., Eddie Vanderdoes and Treyvon Hester have all shown flashes at various times in the first two games. No, it hasn’t been consistent but that’s where the hope comes from.

In the preseason, there is no prearranged rotation. There aren’t many stunts or twists (though, let’s be honest, Ken Norton Jr. doesn’t use many of those anyway). The players often aren’t even subbed out and in based on down and distance. It’s just guys going one on one, trying to prove to their coaches that they can win against NFL talent.

That’s the hope. That once the season starts, the pass rush will be more organized and therefore more productive. If it is. If the interior can collapse the pocket and take pressure off of Mack and Irvin to produce on every down. If the Raiders can establish a consistent pass rush, the rest of the defense will play a lot better because of it.

When you have a good rush you can force mistakes and turnovers. You take pressure off of your corners because they don’t have to guard their man for nearly as long. From the line of scrimmage all of the way to the safety, a strong pass rush makes everything else on defense much easier to do.

We know what Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack can do without a strong supporting cast. But now that they finally have Mario Edwards, Jr. back and a stock of backups to build a strong rotation, we might get to see both Mack and Irvin take it to another level. And maybe, just maybe, Khalil Mack’s 30 sack goal won’t seem so crazy by the end of the season.

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