Much has been made about what the Oakland Raiders' aerial attack will look like in 2018, and understandably so. The additions of Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson will complement Amari Cooper nicely, not to mention the vast amount of depth at the position, and at this point the group has shown nothing but promise.
It's easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the high-flying aerial attack that features quarterback Derek Carr and Co., but let's not forget about the Raiders' vicious offensive line and the violent running style Marshawn Lynch boasts. Judging the progress of the wide outs has been easier the last few months because a lot of it comes down to simply whether they're running the right routes and catching the ball; however, the running backs are a little bit tougher because their money is made when the pads come on.
"It's difficult, as you said, without the pads," Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson said Saturday when asked about the progress of the ground game. "But again, right now when you're first starting out it's about assignments and mental errors. We've gone two, three days with very minimal mental errors, we'll find out more once we get into the live work, but we've been pleased right now with where they're at mentally."
Fortunately, starting Sunday, the Raiders will take the field in full pads; let the games begin.
As Olson pointed out, the mental lapses on offense haven't been an issue, but the team will have a better idea of how the rushing attack is progressing in the coming days. The pads not only highlight the running backs, but the offensive linemen as well. The line as a whole is eager to strap the pads on and figure out the double teams, get comfortable with the pad level, and communicate better as a whole.
"Honestly, I'm one of those people where I don't understand how you can practice without pads," guard Kelechi Osemele shared. "It's football. It's really important. It's where you actually start getting that continuity on the offensive line. You're starting to get those double teams right and the timing right like I was talking about. That's when the real work actually begins for us up front. Just working on pad level. Working on timing of your second step of double teams and stuff like that. The things, the nuances that go with being an offensive lineman. I mean that's when the work is going to really start."
Last year, Osemele got to witness No. 24's brute strength up close and personal, and expects more of the same in 2018. Lynch and the rest of the group will now be joined by Doug Martin, who Osemele believes can add another dimension to the unit.
"I think Doug Martin is a strong and a tough guy, but he's also athletic," the Pro Bowl guard noted. "He has really good vision as a running back so he's going to be able to change direction and hit holes and stuff like that. Then you're going to have Marshawn, this guy that's going to be able to run in one direction, not necessarily have to cut back more than one time. Not really going to try to juke anybody out of their shoes. He's going to try to get the yards right away. So I think it's good to have those two different dynamics."
After a down year last season, Martin is ready to rebound in a big way with his hometown team. On numerous occasions the former Boise State Bronco has flashed his speed and agility, and he'll try to replicate that when the team starts practicing in pads. While Osemele shared some differences between Martin and Lynch, Martin credits Lynch as the inspiration to his running style.
"You know, growing up I used to watch Marshawn," Martin said with a smile. "I modeled my game after Marshawn. I don't think he knows that, but I guess now he will."
I'm not alone when I say I'm excited to watch the two work side by side, and as we've discussed, when the pads come on tomorrow we'll see how they can truly impact the ground game together.