ALAMEDA, Calif. — Former Oakland coach Dennis Allen once described defensive tackle Stacy McGee as a potential foundation piece for the Raiders.
For his first three seasons, McGee gave Oakland little production and the Raiders enjoyed almost no success. McGee is now emerging as a key contributor for Oakland just as the team appears on the way to a turnaround.
McGee is coming off his most disruptive game as a professional, getting 1 1/2 sacks last Sunday in a 34-31 win over the San Diego Chargers. The game helped Oakland get off to its first 4-1 start in 14 years and move into a tie for first place in the AFC West with Denver.
“We all push each other to be good,” McGee said. “I’ve been pushing myself a lot harder this past year, probably a lot harder than I have in the past to be better and help this team win.”
McGee has played a key role in Oakland’s success after recording just a half-sack in 42 games. He played mostly as a reserve his first three years after being picked in the sixth round in 2013.
McGee entered this offseason as a bit of an afterthought. But he earned a starting role with a strong training camp and has gotten more opportunities as a pass rusher with Mario Edwards Jr. sideline by a hip injury.
“Stacy has done some good thing for us,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s flashed some rushes and been really close on a couple this year, so it was nice to see him finish on the two.”
Del Rio has seen a change in McGee’s confidence this season and compared the “hump move” he used on one of his sacks Sunday to Hall of Famer Reggie White.
McGee said he’s been working on that move for a few years since former teammate Antonio Smith taught it to him.
“I guess it took a couple of years to really figure it out and get it done,” he said.
McGee has been one of the few early bright spots on a defense that is allowing 7.0 yards per play — more than any team has given up in a full season since the 1970 merger — and 27.4 points per game.
He provided the inside pressure that had been missing with Edwards hurt. With more production from McGee up the middle, edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin should get more opportunities to get to the quarterback and allow the defense to thrive.
“It really is everything,” Del Rio said about the inside rush. “We’re going to get a lot of attention on the outside guys. We really look forward to getting Mario back here, which we will. But in the meantime, guys like Stacy and (Jihad Ward) have to step up and be a presence in the middle for us to really have the kind of rush we’re looking for.”
McGee said despite the strong start personally and for the team, now is not the time to get comfortable. The three years of losing to start his career, when Oakland went just 14-34, still weigh heavily on him — especially after spending his college career at a school with as much success as Oklahoma.
“It’s hard to deal with, especially coming from schools where I’m winning and to come here,” McGee said. “I’m just glad we turned it around and figured it out.”