The Oakland Raiders offensive line has been at full force for nine minutes this season… nine.
Sunday against the Houston Texans, Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson left the game with an injury, and rookie Andre James was forced to step in. In Hudson's absence, James filled in nicely, but Wednesday afternoon he was forced to leave practice with what Head Coach Jon Gruden is calling a sprained ankle.
"He's got an ankle sprain," Gruden said Wednesday. "He didn't practice either, so we signed Erik Magnuson, a center. And Richie Incognito is a center also, so we'll be ready to go."
He also said there isn't a time frame for Hudson's return, "no. Don't have much other than he's in there getting rehab and hopefully he gets better soon. We sure need him."
Hudson's value can't be emphasized enough, and even the potential loss of Andre James could hinder the offensive line greatly. As Gruden mentioned, the team went out and signed former San Francisco 49ers center Erik Magnuson Wednesday morning, but he has a lot of catching up to do.
"It's a lot of information, obviously I haven't been here for all of training camp and the last eight weeks, so a lot of information crammed into one morning," Magnuson told reporters. "It's pretty similar to offenses I've run in the past, both the 49ers and Michigan, so I'm picking things up and it's coming back to me a little bit."
Magnuson was signed away from the Buffalo Bills practice squad and while learning an entire scheme and new terminology over the span of four days will prove challenging, he has some former teammates to help bring him up to speed.
"I played with [Trent Brown] in San Francisco, so it's fun being back with him, but it's a big group, but I think it's a versatile group," he said. "Richie [Incognito] stepping in and playing center now, it's just a bunch of guys that play well together and like each other. It's a good room, it doesn't happen all the time that everyone in the room fits well together."
With Hudson and James both dealing with nagging ankle injuries, the Raiders were forced to give Incognito some reps at center Wednesday – which isn't the first time he's lined up at the position. Ideally, the team would prefer to have him situated at left guard – where he's been dominant this season – but the Raiders find themselves in a less-than-ideal situation, so they'll just have to make do for the time being.
It's hard to imagine that Magnuson, who's waltzed in midseason and will attempt to learn a new system by Sunday will start against the Detroit Lions, but Coach Gruden is confident in the 25-year-old's ability to pick things up quickly.
"He's a smart guy," Gruden said. "He played multiple positions at Michigan. He started a couple games in the NFL. Incognito can be the center, he's a great player. Incognito can play the center. Denzelle [Good] can play guard, but we just want to get some continuity. The only guy to start every game on the line has been Kolton Miller. We've had three different left guards, three different right guards and three different right tackles. And now potentially three different centers, so when you combine that with the youth at running back, the youth at tight end and then the changing of the guards at wide receiver, it's been tough on Derek [Carr]."
Despite all the shifts and changes along the offensive line this year, the Raiders have only given up eight sacks, which ranks second best in the league only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers who have seven. Even with Hudson and James possibly out this Sunday, the offensive line has plenty of dominant tackles and guards to help carry the load.