ALAMEDA – The Raiders invested heavily in their offensive line. They paid four free agents the big bucks and selected Gabe Jackson in the third round three drafts back.
The front is immensely talented. There’s no doubt about that. They’ve worked hard to play well as one, which is why their widely recognized among the NFL’s elite offensive lines.
They’re clearly the AFC’s best, which was reflected in Pro Bowl elections announced by the league on Tuesday evening.
They have three guys set to start in the Pro Bowl, rolling straight from left to right. Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson were all elected to the starting lineup.
That’s pretty impressive considering the AFC’s blocking talent, but those Raiders have been the best of the best. The Raiders added Osemele and moved Gabe Jackson (an alternate, by the way) to right guard, forming a formidable unit.
“To get an offensive line playing well together takes a ton of work,” Osemele said. “You have to be lucky to a point where the guys gel off the field as well. That chemistry just makes it easier. …We just have a good group. We make it fun, and we like to compete.”
Hudson is at the literal and figurative center of everything, a cerebral asset that has helped this line play well quickly. His first Pro Bowl nod is well deserved.
“It’s like having two quarterbacks out there,” Osemele said. “By the time we come in for our meeting on Wednesday, these guys have already met like a few times and the coaches are sitting there asking these guys how they want to handle things. So, from a standpoint of awareness of like what’s going on with the defense and stuff like that, he’s got to be probably one of the sharpest centers I’ve ever been around and on top of that an athletic one at that, that can get out there and play and make blocks too, not just a guy that’s a smart guy. He can play the game, too.”
If Hudson is the brain trust, Osemele has been the emotional tone setter. He adds a nastiness to proceedings that has added an element to line play.
“He plays hard and aggressive, no matter what part of the game it is,” Hudson said. “He has brought a lot to our meeting room. Everybody feeds off of him. We’re always looking for knockdowns, and he gets a crazy amount.”
The Raiders held a press conference with Hudson and Osemele, the only first-time Pro Bowlers among the team’s seven selections. That list also includes quarterback Derek Carr, edge rusher Khalil Mack, Penn, safety Reggie Nelson and receiver Amari Cooper.
It’s a big deal for the first timers, especially those playing well without much recognition.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Osemele said. “…I’ve been chasing this for a while now. It’s a bucket list thing for me. I’m definitely excited about it.”