Raiders offensive line poised to improve

The Raiders offensive line was pegged with the nickname “Carr insurance” a couple of months ago, after re-signing tackle Donald Penn and acquiring free agent guard Kelechi Osemele.

Protecting franchise cornerstone Derek Carr is a key focus for the Raiders, as is the ability to open lanes in the running game, and it showed during organized team activities held Tuesday at the Oakland Raiders training facility in Alameda.

Last season, the Raiders ranked 28th in total rushing yards with 1,457. Though Latavius Murray ran for over 1,000 yards and received a Pro Bowl nod, the Raiders would like more contributions from other backs on the roster, as well as from the offensive line.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he’s focused on trying to improve in the run game:

“We want to do running concepts that our guys can execute, whether it is the running back or the O-line. We are always looking to get better, whether it be fundamentally or technique-wise.”

The signing of Osemele and the transition of Gabe Jackson from left to right guard should allow the Raiders to open up holes in the interior of the line. Osemele signed a 5-year, $58 million contract with the Silver and Black in March after ranking as the fourth best pass-blocking offensive guard over the past two years, according to Pro Football Focus.

Musgrave said he believes the the 6-foot-5, 333 pound guard is a key addition:

“He is a tremendous run blocker, and we’ve seen that on film when he was with Baltimore. He’s good in pass blocking, but we anticipate his run blocking helping our run game be more productive, that’s for sure.”

Osemele bolsters a Raiders offensive line that ranked sixth-best in the league overall, according to PFF. The line was ranked second in pass protection, but only 18th in run-blocking.

The addition of Osemele should help the run game tremendously, even as the Raiders continue to look for a second running back to emerge as a threat behind Murray.

Speedster Taiwan Jones had issues with fumbling, Roy Helu Jr. practically never saw the field, and fullbacks Marcel Reece and Jamize Olawale lack the speed to make big plays. The depth chart at running back is rather thin, but the Raiders are hoping the addition of fifth round pick DeAndre Washington can help with their rushing woes.

Musgrave thinks highly of the young running back:

“DeAndre is a young guy out of Texas Tech and he’s really worked well for us thus far. He’s going to be good on first, second and third down.”

Washington ran for over 3,400 yards and tallied 1,091 yards in receiving while at Texas Tech, to go with 23 rushing touchdowns. He fits the mold of the smaller, compact back that head coach Jack Del Rio likes, similar to what he had in Jacksonville with Maurice Jones-Drew. Washington is 5-foot-8 and should be able to hide behind the Raiders’ massive offensive line.

The addition of Osemele moved third-year guard Jackson from the left side of the line to the right side. Jackson is a mauler in his own right, and Del Rio said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen so far with Jackson’s transition:

“From our standpoint, we are looking for the best combination (on the offensive line). He’s got the power that you really covet for a right guard in particular, but both (Osemele and Jackson) are really talented. That was the decision we made to try that way first with (Jackson). I’ve seen nothing to suggest that he will be anything but fine. We feel that that group in there will end up being very stout.”

Despite the hype the offensive line has received in the offseason, Jackson said he won’t let that get to his head. Jackson said he is “100 percent” behind the transition, and said he is adapting well to playing on the right side of the line next to right tackle Menelik Watson:

“It’s definitely different. Any combination that we run is not going to be the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or good. We just have to get acquainted with each other and get used to playing next to each other, so we’ll be fine.”

After a season-ending Achilles injury, Watson looked agile on Tuesday during practice. He went head-to-head against Khalil Mack on multiple plays, and managed to hold his own. He got beat off the edge a handful of times, but he seemed to be moving well, a good sign for the offensive line moving forward.

The Raiders interior is teeming with athleticism, and Jackson said he’s excited to get the chance to improve the run game:

“If you’re an offensive lineman, you like run blocking. It’s aggression and that’s what we’re here for.”