December 02, 2015

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) When Justin Tuck went down with a season-ending torn pectoral muscle back in October, the Oakland Raiders knew they would miss his leadership as much as his dependable play.

A veteran of two Super Bowl champions with the New York Giants and a defensive captain in Oakland, Tuck was a strong vocal leader who also set an example with his hard work and play on the field.

Some of that void has been filled by second-year edge rusher Khalil Mack, who has increased his voice, as well as his play, since Tuck went down with the injury.

''I think more importantly than just the stat numbers and things like that, I can tell how he's become more of a vocal leader, how he's kind of taken charge of that sideline, kind of like I was before I got hurt,'' Tuck said Wednesday. ''In the meeting room, he's asking questions, being vocal about what's expected of not only himself but everyone on that defense.''

Mack has been given quite a bit more responsibility in recent weeks, especially following the yearlong suspension for Aldon Smith for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

With Smith and Tuck out, Mack has been the dominant force on Oakland's front seven as the Raiders (5-6) make a push to the playoffs.

''Each week he's been getting better,'' defensive tackle Dan Williams said. ''He's one of those young guys who still hasn't tapped all the talent he has. I'm definitely glad that he's doing a lot more than he's already done. He's definitely a great player. I'm just glad he keeps showing it.''

Mack is coming off a two-sack performance in last week's win at Tennessee and ranks in the top 10 in the league in quarterback pressures, according to game tracking by Pro Football Focus.

Mack has seven sacks on the season after recording just four as a rookie, and has been just as strong against the run.

''They're doing more with him,'' Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said on a conference call. ''They're moving him around more. They can do different things with him and he can handle all of it.''

Even the leadership role, which doesn't always come naturally to Mack.

''I'm trying to speak up a little bit more and talk to the guys,'' Mack said. ''I'm trying to get better every week.''

Mack and the rest of the Raiders would like to have Tuck back next season. Tuck, 32, is in the final year of a two-year contract and has expressed interest in staying with the Raiders.

First, he has to get healthy.

''The rehab is good,'' Tuck said. ''This injury isn't as bad as people think it is. I feel like I could go play now. That's probably an ignorant Tuck talking, but I feel that way. I'm just going day by day, continuing to work in hopes of getting it even stronger than it was before it got hurt.''

NOTES: C Rodney Hudson (ankle) remains out of practice, along with LB Neiron Ball (knee). ... RB Taiwan Jones was back at practice after missing last week's game with a knee injury. ... Tuck was the Raiders' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizing a player for his excellence on and off the field. ... WR Rod Streater was the team's winner of the Ed Bloch Courage award.

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