Raiders tackle Donald Penn returns to practice

Veteran tackle Donald Penn returned to the Raiders practice field Wednesday for the first time since the conclusion of mandatory mini-camp in June.

Penn, 34, had been a contract holdout after starting all 16 regular season games for Oakland in 2016.

Quarterback Derek Carr said at Tuesday’s practice that he anxiously awaited the return of the two-time Pro-Bowl left tackle:

“He’s our teammate. We want all our teammates here, we want to work hard together, we want to be together, we want to joke together.”

Penn was credited with just two sacks allowed in 2016, the best among left tackles who started eight or more games, pacing a line that kept its quarterback in an erected position better than any other in the league — allowing just 18 sacks in total. Even more important to start 2017, with Carr coming off surgery to repair a broken fibula in the right leg.

In replacing right tackle Austin Howard, who made 10 starts a year ago, the Raiders added Marshall Newhouse, a starter with the New York Giants over the past two seasons, via free agency. Newhouse, though, was asked to trade his lead left foot for the right in Oakland’s first two preseason games, continuing the success in pass protection.

Carr said he felt comfortable behind a line book-ended on the left by Newhouse. But with his new teammate at his more comfortable side and the standout Penn on the left — and rookies Jylan Ware and David Sharpe serving as depth — the Oakland O-line’s depth is something to be reckoned with.

Newhouse, however, has spent the past month working from the right side, creating what could be an issue. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing doesn’t believe so:

“He’s a true pro. We saw a good amount of him in the offseason, even though we were in pajamas out there. We saw him at right tackle in the offseason, and we trust his preparation, and his ability, and his ability to transfer technique from the left to the right, so that’s going to be a fluid situation until we get to Tennessee (for Week 1).”

Taking a step back on the depth chart will be Vadal Alexander, the 2016 seventh-round selection who was cast into first-team reps at right tackle due to Penn’s holdout.

His time in the top spot, he said, has fueled growth adding to the line depth that Carr believes could be a strength of this team going forward:

“(I’ve grown) a lot. You’re going against guys like Khalil (Mack) and Bruce (Irvin) everyday, you have no choice but to get better. … I get better every day going against those guys.”

While Penn’s month-long absence may have slightly slowed his readiness, what it did for the whole of the Raider offensive line may have been paramount in its growth, with Sharpe and Ware getting additional reps, and Alexander seeing first-teamers. What the return to the field of Oakland’s veteran left tackle does for the team in the immediate future, though, is far more valuable.