ALAMEDA — The Oakland Raiders spent a great deal of time this offseason bolstering an offensive line that ranked 28th in pass protection during the 2013 season.
They signed Donald Penn to play left tackle, while Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe come in ready to play guard.
The three big bodies will join center Stefen Wisniewski, Menelik Watson and rookie Gabe Jackson, creating what the team hopes will become an elite pass-protection unit in the league.
Dennis Allen couldn’t be higher on the new and, ideally improved, unit:
“I’ve begun to see the beginning of a group gellin’. You don’t want to get too high or too low when you’re out here in underwear, that group is beginning to show signs of coming together.”
The Raiders had serious problems protecting the quarterback until Watson and departed left tackle Jared Veldheer finally got healthy midway through the season. Oakland used a mix-and-match line, frequently mentioning their ‘next man up’ philosophy.
They added four new players this offseason, three of whom are early favorites to start, while re-signing veteran tackle Khalif Barnes.
It’s not an easy task for offensive line coach Tony Sparano to bring in that many new linemen and have them work seamlessly in such a short period of time. Especially with a team that finished 4-12 for the last two seasons, it’s a tall order.
Factor in the toughest schedule in the game for the upcoming season, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. These facts haven’t deterred anyone in the organization to shy away, however. New arrival Maurice Jones-Drew thinks Oakland has plenty to work with:
“I’ve been around some great offensive lines, and these guys have the potential to be one of the best I’ve ever played with. To see how some of these guys have grown since April is amazing.”
Jones-Drew cautioned any naysayers, suggesting that anyone who doubts the Raiders during the preseason should stick to that argument the whole way through the real season.
Oakland has been the laughing stock of the league for several years now, and had a great deal of trouble bringing in top-flight free agents. They reportedly offered defensive end Jared Allen more money than any other team, and Allen declined.
After agreeing with tackle Rodger Saffold on a $42 million deal that would have extended through 2018, Oakland failed him on his physical and Saffold went back to his old team in St. Louis.
Now, with an established quarterback in Matt Schaub, and rookie Derek Carr, the Raiders really need a solid O-line if they’re ever going to know what they have on the rest of the offense.
And even if injuries hit, which they assuredly will at some point, they’re in a much better position to absorb the loss.
Allen spent his breakfast hour with Wisniewski, discussing the state of the line. The feeling as he went back to his normal day-to-day routine was positive.
And for Watson, who’s getting his first full offseason of work in after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, Allen likes what he sees:
“I don’t think there’s any question there’s a difference in his approach. He was very disappointed in last year, I think he’s even said that he didn’t come into this, fully prepared for what he was getting into. … Nothing is given to anybody in this league. You gotta go out an earn it.”
Cornerback DJ Hayden, the team’s first round pick of last year’s draft, is still sporting a walking boot on his right foot and is not expected back until training camp begins in July. … Wide receiver James Jones, who the Raiders signed early on in the free agency period, hurt his shoulder jockeying for ball position with rookie corner T.J. Carrie. He was clearly frustrated after the incident, throwing his helmet after being checked out by trainers, but Allen said it wasn’t serious. … Carrie has looked exceptional thus far and may be a dark horse to start, should he continue to improve during the offseason. It’d be a huge plus for a team that has one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last season. … Derek Carr may be better than advertised, with a release, form and velocity rarely seen from a rookie quarterback. Though it’s early, and the team doesn’t want to throw Carr into the fire during his rookie year, it’s possible that he takes over the starting job at some point in 2014. And that’s not a knock on Schaub, either.