We're back on the offensive side of the football for today's Position Battle, and we're focused on the big fellas up front – the offensive line.
After a year categorized by its ups and downs, the Oakland Raiders offensive line has been retooled headed into 2019, and while some old friends are gone – most noticeably veteran guard Kelechi Osemele – there are new faces in Tom Cable's group that the Silver and Black are counting on to produce big things in 2019.
One thing we know for sure, there isn't a lack of talent on the Raiders offensive line this season; let's take a look at the players that will be tasked with keeping Derek Carr upright this year.
Lester Cotton Sr.
Battle to watch:
EP: I have a feeling that Kyle and I are in lockstep with this one, but it has to be the battle to be the Raiders starting left guard.
As of now, you have to feel pretty confident that we know four of the five starting offensive line headed into camp – Kolton Miller, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown, from left to right respectfully, but that left guard spot is 100 percent up for grabs.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that this competition will be a two-man affair between Denzelle Good – a guy who made three starts for the Raiders in 2018 – and Richie Incognito, a man with all the ability in the world, but who has had his fair share of challenges off the field throughout his career.
The Raiders signed Incognito in late-May, and at the time of his signing, General Manager Mike Mayock was transparent about the expectations for the veteran lineman, and said that the Raiders won't really know what they're getting in Incognito until the team gets to Napa.
Well, that time for evaluation is nearly upon us; may the best man win.
Previewing the Raiders offensive line heading into 2019 Training Camp. Veteran center Rodney Hudson remains an integral piece to the Raiders o-line and is joined by a few new faces highlighted by the free agent acquisition of Trent Brown.
KM: The only position up for grabs along the offensive line is left guard.
Kolton Miller, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown have their positions locked up, but who will fortify the position between Miller and Hudson will be the battle to watch.
Returning for his second season in Silver and Black is tackle Denzelle Good, who played four games at right guard for the team in 2018. He also gained experienced playing guard for the Indianapolis Colts, playing 18 games in total at the position.
In addition to Good, the Raiders went out and signed veteran guard Richie Incognito this offseason, adding more depth and experience at the position. Yes, Incognito retired at the end of 2017, and recently turned 36, but his last three seasons in Buffalo were Pro Bowl seasons and some of the New Jersey native's best. Even in his mid-30s, Incognito showed he can still compete with some of the best pass rushers in football, and in an AFC West that is ripe with pass rushers –both outside and along the interior – he'll need to do just that if he wants to play consistently.
The left guard position is entirely up for grabs, and while I expect Incognito and Good to be the two competing for the job, a third party could emerge.
Storyline to follow:
EP: Personally, I'm excited to see how Trent Brown aka The Greatest Underdog transitions back to life on the right side of the offensive line.
After the Silver and Black signed the big man away from the New England Patriots at the onset of free agency, we all collectively wondered where the Super Bowl champ would line up as a member of the Raiders.
Well, Head Coach Jon Gruden put those queries to bed when he announced that Brown would play on the right side – after playing left tackle with the Patriots – while Kolton Miller would continue protecting Carr's blindside.
Now, with experience already playing on the right, moving Brown made sense logically for the Raiders, but nevertheless, I'm sure there will be a little bit of an adjustment for No. 77.
Seeing just how long that adjustment period lasts will be something I'll be keyed on throughout training camp.
KM: Brandon Parker's development.
Prior to being drafted by the Raiders, some people had never heard the name Brandon Parker before. The third-round pick joined the team after playing at the small college of NC A&T, and like any rookie, he had some growing pains during his first NFL season. Offensive line coach Tom Cable has a knack for grooming young talent, and he'll need to help Parker make strides in 2019.
At 6-foot-8 and 305 pounds, Parker boasts the size needed to anchor either side of the offensive line, but helping him maximize and utilize that size will be the key to his progression this season. Parker was forced to step in and start in 12 games last year after Donald Penn suffered an injury. The experience was certainly good for the 23 year old, but as of now he'll be waiting in the wings for his next opportunity considering Trent Brown and Kolton Miller are presumably your starting tackles for next season and beyond; however, injuries can strike any second, and hopefully Parker will be ready to answer the call if that happens.
Keep an eye on…
EP: Kolton Miller.
The second-year tackle is bigger, stronger, and most importantly, healthy headed into the start of 2019.
After starting all 16 games as a rookie, the former UCLA Bruin appears to be more confident – understandably so – as he begins the journey of his second season as a pro, and I'm really excited to see what he looks like this year.
We saw glimpses of what Miller could be last year as a rookie, but I have a feeling those glimpses will come in more consistent chunks this year.
KM: I brought it up a little earlier, keep an eye on Richie Incognito.
In most cases, you never know how a player will perform after taking a year off, or returning from retirement, but look at Marshawn Lynch. Not to compare Incognito to Lynch, but after returning from retirement, Lynch was effective and showed that he could still produce at a high clip. Just two years ago, Incognito was a Pro Bowler and who's to say he can't return to that level of play?
The offensive line is getting another proven veteran with a vast amount of experience, and that can never be overvalued. If he can stay healthy, I expect Incognito to be the most underrated signing of the offseason.
Question you want answered by the end of training camp:
EP: Outside of figuring out who the starting left guard is, I'm hoping to have a better handle on how the depth of the Raiders offensive line – across the board – looks this season.
As I said earlier, a few noticeable faces from years past are gone, so I'm curious to see who steps up and fills the void.
KM: There's no way this will be answered by the end of training camp, but will Derek Carr be standing upright in the pocket more?
Last year, No. 4 took a bruising 51 sacks – yikes.
With the addition of Trent Brown, a more experienced Kolton Miller, a healthy Gabe Jackson, and an all-knowing center in Rodney Hudson I expect that number to dip drastically, but this offense won't be able to do much if Carr isn't given ample time in the pocket. Carr won't be taking any hits during training camp, but hopefully we won't see the pocket collapse as much, or see the signal-caller have to scramble with his legs.