The Raiders have one area that they feel is strong that hasn’t been good in recent memory: Their offensive line.
Their O-line also has something that it hasn’t had for back-to-back seasons since about 2010: Some leaders to help mesh things this season. As well as a fair amount of talent.
“(Tice) is a former player, so he has a better understanding of guys’ bodies and knows when we need to rest. The best part is he really keeps the room loose and keeps it going. Me and Khalif police it, but make sure the young guys know that when it’s time to work, we need to work. When he’s cool and we’re loose, we’re loose, but when it’s time to work, we work. I think we’ve been doing a good job of being loose when he wants us to and working when we need to work.”
Many players on the 2014 Raiders roster aren’t with the team this year, but the left side of the offensive line is intact. But there also some young players who are either coming back or will be fighting for a roster spot.
In all, though, Oakland’s line has the fewest number of new starters of any unit on the team. Two projected starting wide receivers, a rookie tight end who is primed to play a lot, and two new running backs.
Center Rodney Hudson is the only new member of the offensive line, and was one of the best in the league last season. He should help bolster both sides of the line, and has found success as a pulling lineman with Kansas City within their screen game.
Hudson is on a new team, but the 25-year-old is fitting in nicely. Penn said:
“He fits right in. He is a jokester just like us. Me and Khalif, we stay on him, we go back and forth, but he is a great athlete. He is going to be big for us in that middle. He is putting us in the right spot. He is great in space. When he gets out there in space, he is great. He is very athletic. He is a big part of this offensive line. I am happy to have him. He has been a very underrated player. Watching him out here, I am like, ‘Oh, you’re worth every penny you got.’ He is a very good penny, so I am looking forward to it. He is going to man that middle and we’re going to follow his lead.”
Most coaches like to praise a player or two early in the offseason program, but Del Rio had so far proven to not be that guy. That didn’t stop him Tuesday from praising the offensive line in a manner that he hasn’t with any position group since coming to Oakland:
“We feel good about the O-line group, feel good about the work they’re putting in. (Penn)’s certainly a good player for us. That left side, with he and Gabe (Jackson) and then Rodney (Hudson), that left side is very strong. I think the right side is going to be pretty good, too.”
If the grades from 2014 are a true indicator, the Raiders’ line is at least average, and should be above-average for stretches. Consistency, though, is something the Raiders have struggled with over the last few seasons. Penn said:
“We have a big, strong offensive line, so we want to impose our will this year. We did at times last year, but that’s what we’re working so hard on — we need to do it on a consistent basis. That’s the plan going out.”
The Raiders run game has been bad over the past few seasons, something fans are all too familiar with. Some new additions, the Raiders hope, will take the pieces they’ve had to another level.
They’ll have to prove themselves in the months following September. But the line appears to be meshing well, and the continuity is helping. Penn said:
“Khalif is the man. He has been here what, eight years now? I follow his lead, but me being a veteran and playing a lot, I do speak up when I need to. Me and him are like this, so we feed off of each other.”
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.