ALAMEDA – Donald Penn carried some anxiety into Sunday's game at Tennessee. That's uncharacteristic for someone of his quality and experience level. This wasn't an ordinary season opener.
A contract holdout abbreviated Penn's preseason, leaving a handful of practices and 19 snaps of game action to get ready.
Penn returned to the Raiders Aug. 23 in great shape thanks to an intense private workout regimen with personal trainers, former players and a position-specific drills.
There's a difference between cardiovascular shape and football shape. Penn knows that, planned ahead.
"I'm not going to lie to you. I was worried going into the game," Penn said. "I played a couple snaps in that Dallas game and I was pushing myself extra hard in practice because I really didn't know (how I'd react to a full workload). We had a plan just in case I needed a blow. I took an IV before the game, which is something I usually don't do. I tried to be proactive. Once the game started flowing, I was surprised about how good of shape I was in."
Penn played all 66 offensive snaps and allowed just one quarterback pressure. He wasn't perfect – he missed the block on Jurell Casey that set up Marshawn Lynch's viral truck run – but found a way to get through the game playing well.
"I'm hard on myself. There are a lot of things I have to fix," Penn said. "There were a few plays I'd like to have back. There were some timing issues, making sure I get my hands in the right place. There are things I need to get after this week. I was happy with how I played against a good front."
One byproduct of his contract holdout has been avoided. He was able return in time to remain effective at Jump Street. Primary motivation for staying away this summer hasn't worked out.
Penn still wants a new deal, and preferred to get one done before the regular season started. That didn't happen, but a source said the sides are talking.
This could be a big week in that process, finding a balance that rewards Penn's work while maintaining the Raiders long-term budget goals.
Penn gave up his leverage by returning to the team to insure he'd be ready to start the regular season. He didn't want to let teammates down, giving up some high ground looking for a new deal. Penn holds faith that the Raiders will wiggle some and outline a new deal that works for both sides.
Penn will keep grinding on his game until a pact can be reached.
"There's a lot we have to fix and I have to fix personally," Penn said, "but it's better to do that after a good, strong win that got us some momentum."