It must have been a trip for Derek Carr when the stepped to the line for the first time Tuesday.
The faces in the huddle were the ones he’s grown accustomed to seeing, but when the team headed to the line, while they were indeed all familiar faces, they were in different places, particularly veteran tackle Donald Penn.
Penn, who has started 62 games as a Raider, all at left tackle, since he joined the Silver and Black in 2014, not only returned to practice Tuesday, but did so on the right side, flipping positions for the first time since a cameo appearance in 2016.
“Yeah, that was different,” Carr said when asked about Penn playing right tackle. “I think he’s only done it a few snaps in that one game, New Orleans. Yeah, so it was a little different, but that’s why you have good players. That’s why you add good players to your team, so that when things happen you can put guys in different spots, so that helps us.”
With Kolton Miller on the left side, and the usual trio of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson manning the interior, the veteran tackle spent his first day back from the Physically/Unable to Perform list operating as the team’s starting right tackle.
So, how did No. 72 fare on the right side in his first day back?
“I guess I’m like that fine wine, a seasoned vet,” Penn joked after practice. “Nah, I’m just joking around. I don’t know. One thing I was focused on today was just technique. A lot of times if I get in trouble in the game and stuff, I go back and rely on technique. So, today being in a new side, new position, I was just really trying to focus on my technique because I feel like if my technique is good, everything else, it’ll make up for lost things. Not being out there. It was good to be out there. I need to get back in that good shape. I’m in shape, but I’m not in football shape if you understand what that means. Football shape is different.”
Penn, who found out early Tuesday morning about the switch to the right side, was quick to say that he would do whatever it took for the team to win, but as of now, he wasn’t sure if his foray to the right side was permanent, or just on a trial basis.
“They talked to me about it, about trying it out,” Penn explained. “Seeing what it would do. Seeing how I feel over there and I told them I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win. If you guys feel like this is going to be in the best interest of the team, I’ll do it. Today it felt very awkward and rusty, but I need time to develop. I don’t know if that’s going to be a permanent thing or not yet, but it is something we’re testing out. I told them I’m all for it.”
While we don’t know exactly where Penn will be lined up come Week 1 – or even this Saturday in the team’s second preseason game – having No. 72 back in the mix is nothing but a net positive for Head Coach Jon Gruden and his staff.
First, Penn is a three-time Pro Bowler, and regardless of where he calls home on the offensive line, the eleven-year vet likely makes any unit he’s a part of better.
Secondly, with Penn off the PUP list and back to work, he not only adds more depth to the one of the Raiders’ strongest position groups, he also has a chance to continue coaching up the young guys on the offensive line, most importantly Miller and Brandon Parker.
Like we said earlier, Penn’s exact job on the Raiders is yet to be finalized – the man is obviously a Pro Bowl left tackle, but playing him on the right side does create some intriguing possibilities for offensive line coach Tom Cable, a coach who No. 72 said is one of the best he’s ever had.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play for some good O-Line coaches in Coach [Mike] Tice, Bill Muir back in my younger days with [Head Coach Jon] Gruden,” Penn said. “But you know, Coach Cable he’s up there. He’s probably one of the top offensive line coaches. The coach’s knowledge, the way he coaches his guys. If it’s something for me, he’s not going to change it. He’s just going to be like, ‘OK, that’s what you do? I’m going to mold your game to that.’ Some coaches try to change you. You got to do it this way, this way, this way. He’ll find ways to make what you do right. That helps you being a player, especially helps me being a vet because I’ve been doing some stuff for so long that’s different to him.”
At the end of the day, whether it’s on the left side, right side, or somewhere in between, Penn’s return does nothing but solidify the Raiders’ offensive line, a line that has the ability to be the best in the league.
And with a franchise quarterback like Derek Carr to protect, a good line is an absolutely necessity for the success of the Silver and Black in 2018.
With Penn now activated off the PUP list, the only Raider currently with that designation is defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who as of yet hasn’t made his Training Camp 2018 debut.
Wide receiver Seth Roberts was also unable to participate in the day’s work, but after missing Monday’s session, tight end Pharaoh Brown returned to the field.
Following a collision with cornerback Rashaan Melvin yesterday, Daryl Worley was forced to be a spectator for Tuesday’s session as well.
-The offensive line spent some time working on recovering fumbles at the start of the day’s session. Now, if all goes to plan, they won’t need to use this skill much this year, but hey, better safe than sorry.
-Linebacker Nicholas Morrow enjoyed a nice rep during the team’s one-on-one periods, easily throwing an offensive player to the ground. Morrow has quietly gone about his business in Napa; I’ll be excited to see how he produces over the final three preseason games.
-While we haven’t had a chance to see the Derek Carr/Amari Cooper connection in a preseason game just yet, we’ve seen of plenty of it during practice. Per usual, Carr found No. 89 on the sideline Tuesday morning; I really can’t wait to see what those guys have cooking once the regular season arrives.
-Rookie fullback Ryan Yurachek hasn’t heard his named called a ton this training camp, but he certainly made his presence felt Tuesday, as he lowered his shoulder, and delivered one heck of a lead block during one of the team’s 11-on-11 periods. The hit Yurachek laid was one where you look up, and go, wow, you don’t hear that every day.
-After ceding the kicking responsibilities to Mike Nugent for a day, rookie Eddy Piñeiro once again was back in the saddle Tuesday, and No. 9 had a nice day at the office, connecting on 5 of 6 attempts on the skinny uprights.
“Gabe Jackson is probably the most underrated person in the NFL because of the other three. Now you have another first-round pick on the line, too. Poor Gabe is just left in the wind, but not by us. We know how special he is. We know how important he is. I will say this: every time I look at his Madden rating I get mad, though. It doesn’t do him justice.” – Derek Carr talking about guard Gabe Jackson.
FYI, I agree with D.C. 100 percent on this one; Big Gabe is so underrated it borders on criminal.
The Lighter Side:
Camp can be a grind, I don’t think you’ll find anyone who would disagree with that, so it was good to see some of the Raiders offensive linemen dancing to E-40’s classic anthem, “Tell Me When To Go” Tuesday morning… The big fellas can bust a move, no doubt about that.
I can’t believe it, but the Raiders only have two practices left at their Napa Valley Training Complex.
The team will return to the field tomorrow afternoon, then put a bow on training camp Thursday morning.