The health and performance of quarterback Matt Schaub this season may rest in the big hands of Donald Penn.
The Raiders’ new starting left tackle allowed 13½ sacks last season with Tampa Bay, and if Penn again struggles as he did in 2013, Schaub’s 2014 season could be as rocky as it was with the Texans last year. But if Penn can secure the blind side and give Schaub the confidence he needs to stand in the pocket and pick out receivers, that will be a big plus. Now with the Raiders after his release by the Bucs, Penn – 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds – says he’s ready to rebound to the form he showed in 2012 when he gave up just 3½ sacks.
He says his eight years of NFL experience and quick feet – the result of years playing basketball -- will allow him to rebound.
“I think that’s been a good thing in my career that has helped me,” Penn told reporters Tuesday after organized team activities (OTAs). “If I do mess up on some other techniques, having good feet helps me recover sometimes. I think that’s a good thing. With me going into my ninth year, one thing I do a lot during the offseason is the ladder drill. I do that a lot to keep my feet going well, and that’s one thing that really does help me at being a left tackle.”
Penn, 30, who was an undrafted free agent in 2006 from Utah State, originally signed with the Vikings, then went to the Bucs that same year after his release by Minnesota. He played eight seasons in Tampa and was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Now, Penn is reunited with offensive coordinator Greg Olson, previously an offensive assistant with Tampa Bay.
Since joining the Raiders, Penn has been working with Olson and the Raiders staff – particularly offensive line coach Tony Sparano -- to regain his form, and Oakland head coach Dennis Allen says he’s confident Penn will protect Schaub’s back. In practice, said Allen, Penn has been very good in pass protection.
“Oly has had an opportunity to work with him and he kind of understands what the buttons are you have to push to drive him,” Allen told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen out of Donald, and I’m hoping for a big year out of him.”
For his part, Penn says he now has “a big chip on my shoulder” and wants to be a big part of the revamped Raiders in 2014.
Said Penn: “I feel like this group here is just a bunch of guys that want to work and want to turn this thing around.”