When addressing the Las Vegas Raiders offensive line going into 2023, the word "continuity" comes to mind.
A large majority of the unit is made up of returning players including Kolton Miller, Dylan Parham, Andre James, Alex Bars and Jermaine Eluemunor. While there are a few undrafted rookies and free agents competing for spots, the O-line room is operating with more understanding of Head Coach Josh McDaniels' system of versatility and helping the newest additions learn the ropes as well.
"I think they know more as a group," McDaniels said Tuesday of the offensive linemen. "If you talk to them, a lot of the guys are returning, so they have an ability. ... Improvement doesn't necessarily come through acquisition. Our jobs as coaches are to improve the players each day.
"I think as a unit, as a group, those guys – their communication has improved. Their overall understanding of what's being asked of them has improved. They work like crazy, so we couldn't ask anything more than what we're getting from them in that regard. So, love their attitude, love their mindset. I think we're doing the same thing, because offensive linemen fortunately or unfortunately don't get to necessarily work beside the same guy every rep all season long."
The Silver and Black offensive line boasts three players who have played together for at least five seasons in Miller, James and Brandon Parker. Parker started 13 games for the Raiders in 2021 before sustaining an injury in the Hall of Fame Game last preseason. After overcoming his injury, Parker finds himself in great position to earn reps again throughout the remainder of the offseason program.
"First of all, he's a great human being, and these are the kind of guys you want to have in your locker room. They help everybody," McDaniels said of Parker. "He works his butt off. He sets a great example for others. He's improved significantly in his own ways in the weight room this offseason, which is a tribute to him and the type of work ethic that he has. Came back from the injury last year, which took a while for an offensive lineman to do that, and then really has had an impressive offseason.
"Very unselfish, understands tackles, we use him both at left and right just to give him the opportunity to compete at all those spots. Embraces his role, embraces his opportunities, helps his teammates, communicates well with others. Just a good pro."
James agrees with the head coach, labeling Parker as one of his teammates who has helped him progress in the NFL. James joined the Raiders as an undrafted rookie out of UCLA in 2019, making the switch from guard to center. He's now going into his third season as the team's starting center, which he doesn't take for granted in the slightest.
"Some of these days I walk in this building and it's still like super surreal to me that I'm here and I'm still doing this. So, it's amazing, man," he said. "Just try to come in every day, just trying to get better. That's all I can do. You know, not worry about the outside noise or what people are writing about, what people are saying. Just continue to work and that's been my mindset since day one."
Beyond the established pieces of the trenches, there's much to be excited about in the progression of Parham and Thayer Munford Jr. The two were third and seventh-round picks in the 2021 Draft, and earned a lot of reps throughout the season – with both playing in all 17 games. Parham was selected to the PFWA's All-Rookie Team and Munford allowed only one sack in 370 offensive snaps played.
McDaniels noted the two second-year players seem to be on "a higher ground," taking advantage of their rookie reps and a second full offseason program in the NFL. They have transformed their bodies, adding more lean muscle through strength training, and also have developed a close relationship that's translating into on-the-field success.
"My mindset, I think, is the No. 1 that's changed for me," Parham said Wednesday. "Just understanding simple things like where I need to be and how I need to be on time. Film study, having the understanding of 'OK, this is what you need to do to be able to prepare for this.' Or even now understanding, 'We're going up against this defense at this point' and understanding what they're doing and what they're trying to bring at practice. It's those little things that I'm trying to work on and continue to work on."
It makes sense why the Raiders offensive line has the full support of McDaniels and the rest of the team. The unit aided Josh Jacobs in leading the NFL in rushing yards last season and was the 10th highest rated offensive line by Pro Football Focus.
"[T]hey're learning their teammates, they're getting comfortable communicating with one another, which is an important aspect of this time of the year," said McDaniels. "And hopefully, all of them are growing."
View the best photos from the Raiders' second day of mandatory minicamp.