Mike Tice has been around the NFL block a few times – and also knows a lot about blocking.
The Raiders’ new offensive line coach is going into his 19th season of coaching in the league, where most of his responsibilities have centered on either the offensive line or tight ends. Before that, Tice was a rugged, 6-foot-7, 253-pound tight end who played 14 seasons in the NFL with the Seahawks, Vikings and Washington, and was primarily used as an extra blocker for the running game.
He was an assistant coach for new Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, and is respected around the NFL for his work. He was Del Rio’s first hire in Oakland.
So, Tice, 56, is an expert when it comes to assessing offensive line play. When Tice goes out of his way to praise the potential of the Oakland Raiders offensive line, it’s worth noting.
Yes, Tice isn’t about to say anything bad about his group. Coaches always talk up their own players and keep a positive spin on things, especially at this point of the year in the weeks before training camp opens in late July.
But Tice has been especially positive about a group that hasn’t yet achieved anything and needs to work much better than the team’s O-line did in 2014 when the Raiders’ running game wasn’t particularly effective or consistent.
Tice looks at a group that figures to consist of veteran Donald Penn at left tackle, young Gabe Jackson at left guard, free-agent pickup Rodney Hudson at center, Khalif Barnes or free-agent pickup J’Marcus Webb at right guard and either Menelik Watson or Austin Howard at right tackle and sees a unit that could exceed expectations.
In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio this week, Tice called the unit “the biggest, most athletic group of guys I’ve worked with before.”
“I think the guys on the offensive side are very impressive,” said Tice. “We have a good blend of older and middle-aged and some younger stars that are going to be rising stars in the league.”
He also believes that Jackson, a third-round pick last season, could be a player with a huge impact in his second season.
Last season, the 6-foot-3, 336-pounder from Mississippi State was described by some in the Raiders organization as a “road grader” who was terrific as a run blocker and a work in progress as a pass protector. By the end of the season, Jackson was solid in both areas.
Tice says Jackson has had “the best offseason of everybody.”
“Gabe is big, athletic, strong – great football background,” Tice said in the Sirius interview. “His dad was a high school football coach. I think he’s a rising star. I think he has a chance to be a really good one.”
Tice went on to talk about Penn’s excellent season in 2014 and Hudson’s quickness and explosiveness at center. He believes Webb – whom he worked with in Chicago – can make the switch from tackle to guard and be very good. At right tackle, he believes Watson may finally be set to overcome injuries and assert himself. Barnes and Howard (if they don't win starting jobs) would add depth and versatility.
Said Tice: “I’m pretty excited about the group.”