One of the most crushing blows the Oakland Raiders were dealt with in 2013 was injuries along their offensive line. The team was unable to build the necessary chemistry because of those injuries. They were constantly scuffling players in and out to combat the effects of injuries. Now in 2014, The Raiders are far better equipped to deal with those obstacles.
During the offseason, Raiders' general manager Reggie McKenzie made it a priority to revamp the offensive line. He brought in free agents Donald Penn, Austin Howard, and Kevin Boothe. He also added guard Gabe Jackson in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Those additions have given Oakland a huge boost. The offensive line went from a huge question mark to a potential strength of the offense.
Along with adding depth, the Raiders also found players who possess versatility, which is one of McKenzie and the coaching staff's favorite attributes. Howard is penciled in to start at right guard, but he spent the last two seasons for the New York Jets at right tackle. Penn has brought into play left tackle but has the ability to move to the right side. Same goes for Menelik Watson, who is getting the first shot to solidify right tackle, but played some left tackle a year ago. Boothe is a guard, but is working as a back-up center during the offseason.
“I think it helps tremendously,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of that versatility. “With Austin Howard being able to play either, really. He’s a right tackle, but he probably could move out to the left. We don’t see that, we see him as a guy that can play right guard and could swing to the right tackle for us. We think Penn could play both positions for us. Menelik Watson, the same way with him, he can be a swing guy and he could probably move inside as a guard.”
When the Raiders begin training camp on July 25th, the focus will be keeping this group on the same page. All the new pieces make that a challenge, but that continuity is massive when it comes to performance. The Raiders are trying to avoid those injuries that cost them dearly last season. They are better prepared to handle it in 2014, but that chemistry and comfort gained from having the same group working together each week is important. The Raiders return center Stefen Wisniewski and his experience running the show at center. They also have quality depth in Khalif Barnes and Matt McCants.
“The big thing for us this year is that we stay healthy,” Olson said. “Right now there’s pretty good chemistry in that room. They’re a pretty young room in there. I think that continuity is extremely important. We’re excited about the group we’ve put together up front.”
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