In only his second year, Raiders’ linebacker Khalil Mack has been a dominant force in the preseason. (Tony Avelar/ap)

Bowman, Mack are cause for hope

Balls interrupts the dog-breath offenses on both sides of the Bay to bring you a positive message from the other side of the ball.

It sure will be fun watching the 49ers’ NaVorro Bowman and the Raiders’ Khalil Mack unleash hell the next few months.

In a preseason full of question marks for their teams, Bowman and Mack give us reasons to be excited about the NFL season ahead. Bowman was lights-out against the Denver Broncos on Saturday. One day later, Mack was every bit as dominant. Each registered a pair of sacks and two tackles for losses in one half of play.

The difference: We haven’t seen the best of Mack, 24, who’s three years younger than Bowman and has a lot more to learn. Yet the kid isn’t nearly as rough around the edges as he was a year ago, when the rookie tried to bully his way around the field for the most part.

“The game for him is already slowing down, even though it’s his second year,” said Charles Woodson, his wily teammate. “He’s gone through 16 games. He has some experience in this game. This guy is only going to get better. He’s only getting his feet wet right now. He’s going to be a star.”

“The game has slowed down a lot,” Mack agreed. “You can see a lot of things before the snap. There are a lot of things you can do — read, especially watch film. So we’re trying to capitalize on everything. Things are looking up, and we’re getting better as a team. That’s something we’re excited about, but we still have to get better.”

Even though Mack did little more then bull rush the quarterback last season, he still recorded four sacks and a forced fumble. Since then, he has developed a spin move, which will serve him well especially as a down lineman in pass situations.

“It’s something I’ve been working on,” Mack said. “I’m a hard worker, so I’ve been working on that a little bit.”

BYRD ON A WIRE: Giants newcomer Marlon Byrd wants us to believe that he has never taken steroids, human growth hormone or testosterone in his career. Fine. But if the guy really was serious about his image, he wouldn’t still be buddies with the BALCO owner, Victor Conte, with whom he done business for seven years.

In 2012, Byrd was suspended 50 games after a positive test for Tamoxifen, which he used to treat gynecomastia, the swelling of breast tissue. Athletes also are known to take the drug to reduce breast size, a side effect of steroids usage.

“What I did was, I didn’t look at the banned substance list,” Byrd told reporters the other day. “Dumb, stupid on my part because it’s right there — Tamoxifen. I took the substance, tested positive, got my 50-game suspension. Simple as that.”

But does Byrd really think we’re naive enough to believe that, after no team wanted the veteran after his reinstatement, he went to Mexico to tweak his swing, as he put it. There, the washed-up outfielder resurrected his career in a matter of months.

Byrd’s agents also were the subject of a Major League Baseball investigation after they were linked to several players in the Biogenesis scandal.

There’s too much here to give him the benefit of all doubt, not that any major leaguer with an $8 million salary cares about what others think of him.

DON’T SLEEP ON ST. LOOIE:
A lot has been made of the Giants-Los Angeles Dodgers series, a matchup of two very ordinary teams at the moment. But did anyone notice that a team called the St. Louis Cardinals tip-toed into AT&T Park and left just as quietly with two more victories and the best record in baseball?

Either the Cardinals or Giants has played in the last five World Series, and it won’t surprise Balls if one of them is there again come fall.

RICH GETS RICHER: Trent Richardson was cut by the Raiders after he carried the ball only 15 times in the preseason, but the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft did receive $600,000 as a lovely parting gift.

The decision to offer Richardson a two-year deal wasn’t one of general manager Reggie McKenzie’s better moves, but it could have been worse. The Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts invested first-round picks in a guy who averaged 3.3 yards per attempt in his career, which very well could be over now.

THE LIST: As a public service, Balls provides this fantasy draft advice for local players (average draft position in parentheses):

Carlos Hyde (38.2): Needs to score touchdowns to be a difference-maker, which makes him a reach in the first four rounds.

Latavius Murray (43.3): He’s a solid RB2 candidate, but a suspect o-line limits his potential.

Amari Cooper (51.5): He’s a legit WR2 option. He’s also a rookie.

Torrey Smith (101.7): The longball threat is be too erratic to take this early.

Colin Kaepernick (137.2): His fantasy value lies in his legs, but will he run less now?

Vernon Davis (159.3): Consider only in retro drafts.

Michael Crabtree (159.8): Potential steal especially in PPR leagues. The veteran is in a contract year.

Derek Carr (183.6): Can do worse than him as a back-up in later rounds. Will throw often again and has more targets this time.Khalil MackMarlon ByrdNaVorro BowmanOakland RaidersPaul LadewskiSan Francisco 49ersSan Francisco Giants

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