One area where the Oakland Raiders upgraded during free agency was along the offensive line. They could have as many as four new starters among that group to open the 2014 campaign. With the overhaul on the offensive line, two new starters at tackle will emerge. Those jobs will be won during training camp and the preseason.
The Raiders brought in Donald Penn this offseason after losing Jared Veldheer to the Arizona Cardinals. While Veldheer looked like a franchise piece, Oakland recovered by bringing in Penn to man the left tackle position. Penn is an eight year veteran with 108 career starts. He has already come in an taken on a leadership role in the offense. Despite his struggles a year ago, the Raiders are relying on Penn to protect Matt Schaub's blind side and open holes in the running game. Barring injury, Penn will be the left tackle without much competition.
The right tackle position will be another story. Second-round pick from 2013 Menelik Watson will get the first chance to win the job. His rookie season was cut short by injury and he will have serious learning and developing to do in training camp. Watson shows solid promise as an athlete, but will need experience to grasp the finer points of playing the position. With leaders like Penn and center Stefen Wisniewski helping Watson, he will have a chance to reach his potential. Oakland needs him to start in 2014.
General manager Reggie McKenzie made depth and versatility along the offensive line a priority this offseason. The Raiders have Austin Howard, who is penciled to start at right guard, as an option to bounce out to right tackle. The team also has Khalif Barnes and Matt McCants as back-up options to compete and push Watson for the right tackle spot. Barnes has spent the last five seasons in Oakland and provides depth and experience at numerous spots along the line. He has played left tackle, right tackle, and guard for the Raiders. Despite his penalty issues, the coaching staff likes Barnes. He will have an opportunity to beat out Watson in training camp.
McCants was a very nice find for the Raiders after he was released during final cuts by the New York Giants. He appeared in 13 games for Oakland and made three starts a year ago. It looked like a potentially disastrous situation when the Raiders turned to McCants to play right tackle in 2013 because he was way down the depth chart, but he came in and played well. With a solid training camp and development, McCants will be a nice option for the Raiders as a back-up tackle who can play when called upon.
Tags: Donald Penn, Football, Jared Veldheer, Khalif Barnes, Matt McCants, Menelik Watson, NFL, Oakland, Oakland Raiders, tackle, training camp