Trial by Fire: Brandon Parker Taking Over Donald Penn's Place in Raiders Starting Lineup

ALAMEDA – Raiders right tackle Donald Penn pulled up lame in Sunday's victory over the Cleveland, with a groin injury mandating he couldn't carry on.

All eyes shifted to third-round rookie Brandon Parker. He was, after all, the next man up. Parker didn't have time to think or worry about making his NFL offensive debut.

Parker had played five snaps on special teams before this big moment, his first time playing offensive line in the NFL.

"The nerves come in the days leading up to a big game," Parker said. "Once you get in there, your nerves just go away. I'm amazed at how that happens. I knew I had to ball. I just went out there and did it."

Parker was far from perfect, allowing two sacks, a quarterback hit and a hurry in 57 snaps, per analytics site Pro Football Focus. He was thrown into the fire against Myle Garrett and coordinator Greg Williams' confusing defensive scheme, and came out smarter for the experience.

That's a positive for Parker and the Raiders, because that experience was not a cameo or a one-off.

Penn was moved to injured reserve on Wednesday, and Parker took his place in the starting lineup. That's a big jump for any rookie, especially one hailing from small-school North Carolina A&T, who lost significant preseason work to nagging ankle injuries.

"It is a big transition to the NFL, especially coming from a smaller school like he did," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Thursday. "He has showed some things at the Senior Bowl, so we knew he had the talent level to play here. There's always a transition in the NFL. We're happy with where he is, but he does have a ways to go."

He did a good job replacing Donald Penn, who had been a Pro Bowl tackle. He had a lot of help with the guys inside. Derek Carr feels comfortable with him playing the right side, and we feel comfortable with him there, too."

Good, consistent play will provide coaches confidence. First-round pick Kolton Miller has done that on the left, where he cemented a place in the starting lineup and leads rookies in pass-blocking efficiency.

Miller and Parker bookending the line Sunday against the L.A. Chargers will mark the first time since the NFL-AFL merger the Raiders have started rookies at both offensive tackle spots. That's a scary proposition, especially with Parker set to make his first NFL start.

It's Parker's first start at right tackle at any level. Moving right from left tackle – that was always the plan, with Miller in the same draft class – remains a work in progress, though significant strides have been made.

Penn has streamlined the process some. A career left tackle in his own right, Penn made the switch this preseason and has helped Parker do the same.

"As I've been taking more reps on the right, he has been watching me closely and working on my sets," Parker said. "He has been a great resource, and certainly was (against Cleveland). He was on the sideline giving me scouting reports and pointers whenever I came off the field. He was with me the whole time."

Offensive line coach Tom Cable is also a resource for this young player. The Raiders preferred he spend a season working behind Penn, but this week's events ruined that prospect.

"He is progressing well, though I really haven't changed my thought on him," Cable said back on Sept. 20. "He's a player who needs to develop more strength. But his brain, his work ethic are solid. He wants to see what it looks like when he's at his best and then capture it."

The ankle injury prevented the photo from reaching clear focus. That issue, Parker hopes, is now in the past.

"I feel like I could've been in much better position to help the team earlier had I been healthy," he said. "It took a while for me to finally get it right, where I was confident playing on it. I've reached that point now."

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