Tackle Donald Penn
Donald Penn grew up a Raiders fan, and putting on the Silver and Black the past two seasons has fulfilled a childhood dream for the physical left tackle. Now, not only is Penn playing for the team he grew up cheering for, he's witnessing its return to relevance firsthand.
The changes since he arrived in the Bay Area prior to the 2014 offseason have been palpable. When the veteran left tackle first joined the Silver and Black, the team was coming off a 4-12 campaign, but two years later the culture around the facility has changed, and that shift is something Penn has undoubtedly noticed.
"I think we had 100 percent attendance this whole offseason, and guys are out there putting in that work, doing extra, staying behind and doing extra, getting in early," Penn recently told Damon Bruce on 95.7 The Game. "This is just offseason time – imagine what we're going to do when the season really gets going. Guys are really putting forth the effort, and me being a leader, it's kind of easy right now because guys are doing it on their own. I don't have to get at the guys and tell them to do it, they're doing it on their own."
In 2015 – Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first year at the helm – the Raiders showed a marked improvement, and while at season's end the Raiders hadn't met all their goals, that improvement created a buzz around the team that has carried through the offseason, particularly with the additions the Silver and Black made through free agency and the draft.
"The great thing is, I saw a lot of that come along last year, and then now, with the new additions, everybody's just meshing so well," Penn explained. "It's kind of like a fairytale how everything's meshing, everything's coming together. New guys are coming in and they're fitting well with the guys, joking around, [having] a good time. They know, when it's time to work, it's time to work, when it's time to have fun and play, it's time to have fun and play."
One of the biggest additions – no pun intended – that the Raiders acquired this offseason was guard Kelechi Osemele, and Penn knows that the imposing lineman's presence will pay dividends for the team's offense as a whole.
"He [Osemele] is a guy that has a real power to him and some real strength to him, just like Gabe, and we have two guards right now that can go one-on-one against some of the top guys in the league," Penn said. "Kelechi is picking things up very well. I'm trying to help him along as much as I can, because I do know the offense a little bit better because I've been in it, but definitely a great addition. We have two guards that will be able to pull and it's going to open up our offense and our run game a lot, tremendously."
Penn acknowledged that there's a special feeling surrounding the 2016 Raiders, but he was also very quick to say that while the hype is nice, the team hasn't proved anything yet. It's for that reason that he –along with the rest of his teammates – is anxiously awaiting July 28 when the Raiders officially kick off Training Camp 2016 at their Napa Valley Training Complex.
"We can't wait to get out there and show the world what we've been working so hard to get done," Penn said. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us. We're excited to get going in training camp so we can really start fine tuning everything and getting everything going and doing the last final tweaks."