Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper are the established cornerstones of the Oakland Raiders, but the foundation is comprised of the team's interior offensive line.
It's a philosophy Reggie McKenzie has adhered to since he became the team's General Manager in 2012: building from the inside out is the priority. Having a stout offensive line will open up everything else offensively, and the importance of keeping your quarterback upright can never be overstated.
The 2014 NFL Draft class always highlights Mack and Carr – and for good reason too - but Gabe Jackson deserves some praise as well. The former third-round pick has been a Pro Bowl snub the past few years, but his contributions on the field have helped keep No. 4 clean in the pocket.
One year after drafting the team's franchise quarterback in Carr, and a quality right guard in Jackson, McKenzie signed center Rodney Hudson, who's served as the anchor the team needed in the middle. One year after the addition of Hudson, McKenzie wasn't done. With Jackson on Hudson's right side, the team added another violent guard in Kelechi Osemele to play to Hudson's left.
It's that violent play style from Osemele that's caught the attention of his new head coach, Jon Gruden, who fully expects to take advantage of the big man's talent.
"I like him a lot, obviously," Gruden said Tuesday. "Those three guys inside are a pleasure to be around. Can't say enough about the physicality of Osemele. He's rare that way. The guy in the pivot is a sensational player. Rodney Hudson makes us go. He's the straw that stirs the drink. He's a great athlete. He's smart. He doesn't miss a snap. He doesn't miss a call. Gabe Jackson is the most underrated guard. For him not to be in a Pro Bowl, there really should be an investigation, honestly. We've got three really good players in there."
Several of the Raiders' skill players receive a majority of the attention because they're flashy, but as Gruden said, the interior of the offensive line is the engine that makes the car go. Protecting Carr will always be the objective, but Osemele and the rest of the line are looking forward to opening up running lanes in Gruden's scheme.
"He [Gruden] said, 'I was so excited to come here and work with you guys because I love the way you guys run the ball. We're going to keep running the ball. We're going to make sure that we do that.' That obviously makes you feel good," Osemele said. "Makes you feel like you're a part of it. I think that's going to be a big part of our game. I don't think we're going to be one dimensional. We have all these checks and these different things and audibles for the receivers and stuff like that. I don't think we're going to get away from the physicality whatsoever."
In a system with many intricacies, Gruden has brought in a coaching staff that will help his system excel. One of those important cogs is Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable, who Gruden believes will bring the best out of his players.
"He brings us, not only experience – the championship experience, head coaching experience," Gruden said. "A lot of versatility. He's coached in a lot of different schemes, different runners, different quarterbacks, different head coaches. He's versatile. He can adapt. He's a tough guy. Usually the tough coaches, they help develop tough lines. The thing I love about Cable is he's a great teacher."
The offensive line has established itself as one of the most-dominant lines in the NFL the past few years, but even so, the unit is looking to take another step forward in 2018.