In light of the re-signing of left tackle Donald Penn and the addition of former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele in free agency last week, the Oakland Raiders offensive line is poised to become a dominant force in the National Football League. Under the tutelage of offensive line coach Mike Tice, this group promises to feature power, athleticism and versatility in a collection of very large men.
"They're big, and they're good students. Most of the guys are quick for big guys," Tice said of the group last October. "We need to continue to understand that as offensive linemen the mesh you have with the guy next to you, and the footwork and the hat placement and the hand placement really on every down on every Sunday is what it's all about."
The Raiders offensive line tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks allowed with 33 in 2015. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign.In fact, Penn has been the left tackle for all 32 of Carr's starts in the last two years.
Although the Silver and Black finished 28th in the NFL in rushing with 91.1 yards per game, it was a marked improvement from 2014 when the Raiders finished 32nd with 77.5 yards per game. Running back Latavius Murray paced the ground game with 1,066 yards, which was good for sixth in the NFL and second in the AFC. Murray earned a Pro Bowl appearance in the process.
Center Rodney Hudson, who came over from the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent last year, became the centerpiece of an offensive line that featured Penn at left tackle, Gabe Jackson at left guard, J'Marcus Webb at right guard and Austin Howard at right tackle. Unfortunately, Hudson missed three games due to an ankle injury.
"They want to play well together, they like each other, they spend a lot of time talking football which is what I like," Coach Tice told Raiders.com last season. "For big guys, they do have some agility. It's nice when you have five guys that are adequate pass protectors. Oftentimes you get a guy like, 'how are we protecting him this week?' When you have five guys that can recover, it really helps your pass protection. That's where we're at because they're good athletes."
Hudson's backup, Tony Bergstrom, who filled admirably, has departed for the Houston Texans, and Webb is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
The projected starting line-up as of today shakes out with Penn at LT, Osemele at LG, Hudson at C, Jackson at RG and Howard at RT.
Let's not forget Menelik Watson, who was the presumptive starter at right tackle before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury during a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals in Oakland on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Rookie offensive lineman Jon Feliciano, the Raiders 4th round pick out of Miami (Fla.), started three games at right guard at the end of the 2015 campaign.
Offensive lineman Khalif Barnes is an unrestricted free agent, while Matt McCants is a restricted free agent. The team currently has eight offensive linemen under contract.
Theoretically, Feliciano could fit in as the "swing" and even back up Hudson at center, while Howard and Watson battle it out at right tackle. Mitch Bell is a young guard, who spent last year on the practice squad and was re-signed as a "Reserve/Future" back in January.
Looking ahead to next month's NFL Draft in Chicago, the Raiders could conceivably take an offensive lineman, presumably a tackle, at No. 14 overall. Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin, Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley and Ohio State's Taylor Decker have all been indicated as possibilities at that spot in various expert mock drafts. Quality offensive linemen, such as Kansas State's Cody Whitehair or Stanford's Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett, could be had in the second round or later. McKenzie has a history of finding quality linemen in the later rounds as Gabe Jackson was a third round selection in 2014.
The average size for the Silver and Black's possible starting offensive line is 6'4", 325 pounds. Looking at Pro Football Focus' 2015 grades for that projected starting five, the Raiders offensive line is poised to do big things in 2016 with some very large, athletic men.