ALAMEDA — The final day of the offseason program for the Oakland Raiders was a time for the backups to shine.
Coach Jack Del Rio let his second- and third-stringers get almost all of the action during team drills on the final day of mandatory minicamp Thursday before sending his players off for six weeks before training camp.
Del Rio sent them away with a message to take care of their bodies so they arrive in camp ready to work and to stay out of trouble and make good decisions in what sometimes has been a troublesome time for NFL players between the offseason program and camp.
That was a message that resonated with AP Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack.
“When you think about it you have a lottery ticket in your hand,” Mack said. “I tell all the defensive guys that. You have a lottery ticket in your hand. You can’t trick it off on doing something stupid in the town messing with this and that. It’s all about being focused and remembering that lottery ticket that you got in your hand is that opportunity that you have to play and do great things and represent your last name.”
Mack has emerged as one of the NFL’s top players and a leader on the Raiders in his first three seasons. His play was rewarded with a surprise ceremony this week.
Mack received the professional Butkus Award as the NFL’s top linebacker last season when he had 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception. Mack received the award from its namesake as Hall of Famer Dick Butkus presented him the trophy in person on Wednesday in front of the whole team.
“Out of nowhere, they show us highlights and his highlights are crazy,” Mack said. “Dick Butkus highlights are crazy. And I’m like, ‘What’s going on today!? We’re getting a presentation, like what’s going on?’ Out of nowhere he announced it and I was like, ‘What?’ It was a pleasant surprise man. In college I wanted to win it, and being like I won it now, it’s a surreal thing.”
That was all part of a fun final week for the Raiders, who went go-kart racing last Friday instead of holding an OTA practice and then had a team bowling event after practice Wednesday.
It was all part of the team building Del Rio likes to do in the offseason.
“We want to compete in everything we do, so I like any type of competition that we can create,” Del Rio said. “We like to do that. Then two, just to get away from this environment. Have guys interact. You build that camaraderie. You have that time together aside from in here grinding in meetings and on the football field. I think that’s an important aspect.”