ALAMEDA – Richie Incognito is five weeks removed from a suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Those two games away from the Raiders were difficult, an extended reminder of two incidents that bolstered his reputation for unruly, unsavory incidents that have sullied a sterling career playing the game of football itself.
That's all behind him now, the suspension a final reminder of mistakes he'd like to put permanently in the past while stacking good days.
Incognito has done that consistently since joining the Raiders, building solid relationships and anchoring the left guard spot along a dominant offensive line.
It's a responsibility he relishes, one he thought he might never hold again. After a year away from the game, two run-ins with the law and possible suspension looming, Incognito's offseason concerns were valid.
The Raiders gave him a chance, and Incognito's taking full advantage.
Now he's playing it as well as he ever has and has recapturing his love for the game in the process. In sum, he has been awesome since joining the Raiders. He hasn't given up a sack and has allowed just four quarterback pressures in four games. Incognito and young left tackle Kolton Miller have become a dominant force in the running game.
As important as any of that: Incognito seems rejuvenated, refreshed, ready to go again. That was crystal clear after Thursday's practice, during a discussion about his return to football following a brief retirement.
"You never know how many more days you're blessed with to play this game," Incognito said. "I'm definitely on the short side of things, on the downhill run. I'm just trying to enjoy everything I'm doing with teammates and Jon Gruden and this crazy travel schedule we're in. I'm all in and have been doing everything with a smile. I'm very grateful to be doing what I'm doing right now."
Incognito wanted one more shot in 2019, needing a team to take a chance and let him prove he was in the mental and physical shape required to find old form without bringing baggage with him. He wasn't sure if or when the opportunity would arise, but he wanted to be as ready as possible if his phone rang.
"There was a lot of hard work that went into it," Incognito said. "I wanted to make sure I was prepared if the opportunity presented itself. I took training very seriously, including my nutrition. I took a year off, but it was a healing year off and a year to work out hard. It has gone well, and I knew I could play but, yeah, I have surprised myself a little bit."
The Raiders have been pleased with their return on investment to this point solidifying a 2018 trouble spot with a 3x-year old former Pro Bowler who still has it after a season away from the game.
"There's always some concern at that age," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "But the year off, and again we mentioned this earlier as well, it's almost like he's found the fountain of youth. He looks fresh, at least through the first six games of the season he looks like a young player. So, we're excited about that. Certainly as they get older, you expect the legs to wear down first on somebody like that, but he's shown no signs of aging right now."
He has offered this offensive line a great deal to this point, making those around him better with steady physical play on a line that sets the offensive tone. Incognito lines up next to Miller, the only young player in this veteran group, and has been a productive partner
"I've worked with a lot of young tackles, and what makes our working relationship so good is that he's such a smart guy," Incognito said. "He's super cerebral, and I leaned on him early to help me get the plays down. We communicate really well, and we play our asses off. It has been fun."
That's the theme of this season. Incognito understands that his reputation will often precede him but isn't focused on any of that. He's rooted in the moment and clearly happy back in the game for one last run, however long that may last.
"I find that I'm enjoying all the stuff that I took for granted during my first couple years in the league," Incognito said. "I'm enjoying hanging with the guys and being in this building. I'm embracing all of this and enjoyed every single bit of this experience."
The Raiders have received a solid return on investment, getting solid on-field play and adding an element of leadership and surehandedness to the front five.
"Richie has brought a real level of maturity to the room," offensive line coach Tom Cable said. "He has seen almost everything on a football field in his career. That was part of the deal with him signing here, to match up with Kolton, develop a relationship and really get on the same page. You really couldn't ask for more than what he has given us."