ALAMEDA — The Raiders were laughed at in the offseason, losing their star left tackle and then butchering a free agent deal with guard Rodger Saffold.
Slowly, their free agency campaign picked up steam, and by the end of the draft, many hailed the first year of the Raiders’ building process a huge success. And the main point of emphasis — the offensive line — has shown to be one of the best in the league.
Derek Carr notices, surely, giving props to the men who stick their necks out to keep his jersey free of turf stains. So does head coach Tony Sparano, who coached the revamped line into one unit instead of five men.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson calls quick passes, ensuring Carr has a chance to get the ball out quickly. From the coaches to the players, there’s plenty of praise to go around.
The best part for Raiders fans, guard Jackson and tackle Watson have yet to play 16 games. Watson, who stepped in for right tackle Khalif Barnes Sunday, pushed back defenders with ease on several occasions, and earned the highest grade of any Raiders player from Pro Football Focus.
Jackson has been instrumental in keeping interior rushers out of the pocket and helping to open the run game. Olson had positive words for Watson Thursday:
“I think he’s one of our good, young players. One of our core players. I think right now there is a good core group of players, Menelik Watson being one of them, Mychal Rivera, Derek Carr. There are some guys there that we can build with. We always look at the end of the week or after the game, where are our young players? How do we feel about our young core players? He’s a guy right now that we’ve felt pretty good about.”
Through five games, Carr has suffered 28 fewer sacks as a rookie than did his older brother David as a Houston Texan in 2002. Carr said he’s not the only one appreciative of the job his linemen do:
“I know my wife appreciates it. They’ve been doing such a fantastic job, especially with the extra-effort type things – things like maybe they’re sliding one way and there’s no one there, they’re going to come back and help somewhere else. … Especially last week, we turned the film on and there’s times where there’s no one within eight yards of me.”
It’s a big positive to have a top-flight offensive line protecting a rookie quarterback, and should help Carr grow with the rest of the offense.
If the defensive unit can grow alongside, the Raiders may be building something few teams have — even if their record doesn’t show it.