Four-fifths of the Raiders offensive line is set in stone.
Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson were Pro Bowlers in 2016. Right guard Gabe Jackson is considered a future Pro Bowler. The Fab Four combined to give the Raiders the NFL’s fourth-best offensive line in 2016, according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus. And, it’s one of the franchise strengths heading into 2017.
But then there’s right tackle.
Austin Howard is the incumbent and has played well the past couple of seasons in taking over for the now-departed Menelik Watson. But right tackle has been the weakest link in a strong chain. Because of injuries, four different players started at the spot last season, and they combined to give up seven sacks and commit 15 penalties.
So, this offseason, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie signed former New York Giants starting right tackle Marshall Newhouse to a two-year deal. This past season, while serving as a backup at right tackle and left guard, Newhouse posted the best grade of his career (as compiled by Pro Football Focus), with an especially high mark as a pass protector.
The Howard vs. Newhouse battle will be one of the key position fights on offense heading into summer training camp. Former Florida standout David Sharpe, who played left tackle for the Gators before being drafted by Oakland, has also been getting work at right tackle this spring.
On Thursday, Newhouse talked about joining his new team in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio. He said joining a strong core group on the line, plus playing for veteran offensive line coach Mike Tice were selling points.
“In the free-agent process, you had kind of seen around the league, you kind of keep notes on guys, and as a team you had seen how on the rise the Raiders were as an offense, even more so as an offensive line. …” he said. “So the opportunity to come play with guys like Gabe Jackson, young good players, Rodney Hudson, Kelechi and Donald, it was just something that really intrigued me and I think it’ll make me better in the long run.”
Newhouse says Tice has a deserved reputation as a coach who can make players better.
“He’s very straightforward, he puts things out there in the open, and he’s not hesitant about it,” said Newhouse. “Some coaches, you might say, will kind of pull punches. It’s not that he’s being purposely harsh, but he’s just being very honest with guys about where their position is, and what they need to do to maybe jump a position, or change a position or change their role in the offense. And especially in our line, we respect that.”