Brandon Parker's rookie year was a baptism by fire.
Thrust into the fray to fend and learn on his own, the former third-round pick understandably struggled his rookie year, but it was what he needed.
Coming out of North Carolina A&T, the 6-8, 320-pound behemoth had a lot of raw talented that needed some grooming. Originally expected to learn under former Raiders tackle Donald Penn, Parker was forced to start in 12 games last year, as Penn dealt with lingering injuries all year.
Any experience is good experience, and despite making some mistakes, Parker is able to separate the good from the bad, and learn from both.
"Some games were good; some games were bad," Parker said. "Even in the bad games I had good moments, but it was a big learning experience. I learned what to do and what not to do at the same time. Kind of a trial by fire. Knowing that experience I got, coming in this year knowing what I had to work on, it helped a lot.
"Experience is always the best teacher. Shoot, kind of like if you tell a kid not to touch a stove and he touches it, if you tell a kid not to touch a stove it won't tell him as much as if he touches it and he says 'ouch' and figures out what it feels like."
Entering his first, full NFL offseason, Parker knew there were areas of his game he needed to improve upon, specifically his strength. The transition from NC A&T's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to the NFL is a big leap in terms of the size, speed, and physicality, which resulted in an adjustment period for the former Aggie; however, he knows he's capable of combating opposing defensive linemen in Year Two.
"Just strength, overall," he said when asked where he needed to improve. "Even sometimes if my punch was there, there wasn't a whole lot behind it, so it wasn't doing a lot to stop them. Now, I'm a little stronger, so when I put my hands on people they stop."
When you face the likes of Joey Bosa, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Chris Jones, and Frank Clark twice a year, you're going to need to stop the big boys coming off the edge. Parker needed to add size and strength, but more importantly he needed to stay healthy. With Penn down, Parker had to step up and play regardless of ailment.
"Last year I was hobbling," Parker explained, "so I was hoping not to move a certain way because if not you're not going to be able to recover, but this year I can move any way I need to in order to get my job done."
While Parker might be healthy, his fellow right tackle Trent Brown isn't. During the Raiders game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, the dominant offensive lineman was unable to finish the game with a sore knee, and Wednesday afternoon he was unable to participate in practice.
The addition of Brown has lengthened Derek Carr's time operate in the pocket, and replacing him won't be easy, but if he's unable to suit up against a stout Minnesota Vikings front seven, Parker is ready to answer the call.
Parker has added noticeable strength, but he's also more intelligent. It helps when you have veteran center Rodney Hudson to identify blitz packages, but now Parker is recognizing them on his own – just a second or two slower than Hudson.
"Everything is a second faster," Parker divulged. "Rodney never misses a call it seems like, so sometimes I see the calls before he makes them, so I'm starting to process stuff like him. Still not as fast as him – a wily vet – he's got everything. I process the same stuff he does just a second slower."
Head Coach Jon Gruden told the media Wednesday he's hopeful that Brown will be able to take the field, but the team is prepared to trot Parker, or David Sharpe, out there if need be.