Offensive Line Play Must Be Better to Spark Raiders Resurgence

The Raiders offensive line used to be a dominant, formidable front. That group had size, precision and just enough nasty to make game day a miserable experience for the opposition.

That wasn't the case last season, when a once imposing force fell on hard times. Edge rushers especially had a field day for a group in transition, starting two rookie tackles.

First-round left tackle Kolton Miller's trial by fire was expected but complicated by significant knee ailments that rarely got right. Third-round right tackle Brandon Parker should've red-shirted 2018, but Donald Penn's early injury thrust him into the lineup.

Young bookends allowed 26 sacks and 69 total quarterback pressures between them. Even the vaunted interior line pulled up lame, with Kelechi Osemele out five games with injury. Even Gabe Jackson finished the season on injured reserve.

That unit allowed 52 sacks, and helped generate a No. 21-ranked 4.2 yards per carry in 2018.

That's a far cry from 2016, with the Raiders allowed an NFL-low 18 sacks and were integral in generating 4.4 yards per carry (10th ranked) and 120.1 yards per game.

That group won't have a chance to find old form. The band broke up, with Penn released this offseason and Osemele traded.

There's plenty of new here, with right tackle Trent Brown signing a record contract and Richie Incognito added Tuesday to shore up the left guard spot.

The offensive line should look like this: LT Kolton Miller, LG Richie Incognito, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Trent Brown. Swing tackle: Brandon Parker. Backup center/swing guard: Jordan Devey. Competition should settle the final two or three reserve spots beyond that.

That group looks deeper and more experienced than a year ago. The group should be better.

Key word: should.

There's plenty we don't know about how this line will meld, considering it's May and they won't put on pads until early August.

Early impressions, however, are positive.

"I think they kind of took (last year's struggles) personal," quarterback Derek Carr said. "They understand that there were injuries, they understand that there were a couple plays that I should have thrown the ball away, but that sacks number just eats at them. They're prideful guys. They don't want me getting touched. They don't like me getting hit. That's another thing where, these guys came in and you saw that there was something going on in their heart, like ‘Man, I want to get better at this or that'. And they showed up and I can tell already, just in three months after last season ended. Three months is a long time to sit on the couch or get to work. You can tell that all of those guys went to work."

The effort's there. So is new talent.

Brown's an instant and obvious upgrade at right tackle, a spot the Raiders have long struggled to fill. Miller and Parker have gained significant lean mass in a full offseason without worrying about the NFL draft, starting their second seasons with increased confidence.

Hudson remains an elite talent that makes everything go. Jackson's a top interior lineman when healthy. Incognito is a wild card after a year away from NFL football, but made three consecutive Pro Bowls before retiring in 2018. The Raiders were impressed by his football shape and agility at 35 years old, and are more comfortable not relying on Good at an important spot.

Devey's a respected backup, and Parker has experience at both tackle spots and should have the strength to handle pass rushers who beat him soundly a year ago.

It'll be up to position coach Tom Cable to bring this line together and keep it playing well. The former Raiders head coach, who made a career out of leading offensive lines, has a track record of solid rushing totals in Seattle. Last year's group was in transition, but that doesn't excuse 52 sacks and rushing marks that ranked in the low 20s league-wide.

Cable was integral in drafting Miller, the primary target in 2018 after Denver took edge rusher Bradley Chubb the 49ers took top offensive tackle prospect Mike McGlinchey at No. 9 overall.

The Raiders also gave Brown a mint, so expectations will be high for him on the right side. He and Jackson should be tough to stop in the run and pass game, as Penn and Osemele were in 2017 especially.

The Raiders significantly upgraded their skill positions, adding Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Ryan Grant and Josh Jacobs this offseason.

Time and space is needed for those assets to thrive. Quarterback Derek Carr's best seasons have obviously come with security up front, giving him comfort allowing plays to work downfield.

Offensive line play will be vital to the team's offensive success this season. Cohesion is key with this group, which will be built during the offseason program and training camp heading into a season where improvement if required on both sides of center.

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