One of the areas the Oakland Raiders were aggressive in strengthening this offseason was the offensive line. Last year, the unit was decimated by injuries and the product on the field suffered significantly. Throughout the preseason, the Raiders coaching staff was been encouraged by the continuity along the offensive line and believe that they can be a strength of the team going forward.
“I think any time you can put the same group out there for as many reps as they’ve been able to get through the offseason and through training camp has been a positive,” Raiders' head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think that group is beginning to gel together as a unit. I think they’re playing with confidence and I think that’s going to be a position that I think is going to be one of the strengths of our football team.”
The preseason has been important in the Raiders finding that continuity on the offensive line. They have a new left tackle and right guard in Donald Penn and Austin Howard as well as giving Menelik Watson a chance to start at right tackle. They also have been working in rookie Gabe Jackson at left guard and moving Khalif Barnes out to tight end as extra protection. With so much change, the Raiders need these games to develop that knowledge, communication, and chemistry with each other.
“When you have five guys working together and the communication that’s required to play up front, it helps everybody involved,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “It helps the running backs. It helps the quarterbacks. That group in particular, because they all have to be in conjunction with one another. They all have to be on the same page. Besides the fact that we’ve stayed healthy there, they’ve also are really a veteran group of guys. That’s been a bonus for us.”
One area the Raiders offensive line has excelled during the preseason is in run blocking. They have been able to open up holes and push around the opposing defensive line. That was the hope when the Raiders put together this collection of players. They are a huge offensive line and they have used that girth in the run game.
“When you look at us, we’re a big front right now,” Olson said. We’re a big offensive line. “We try to play to their strengths and the running back strengths and we think that they match up well. Their size, ability to move people off the ball, coupled with Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden’s running style, we think that will help the running game.”
On the other hand, the pass blocking is still a work in progress. Against the Detroit Lions in the second preseason game, they had some protection issues. Quarterback Matt Schaub was under pressure on several different occasions. The Lions did blitz more than most teams do in preseason, but it is an area the Raiders need to clean up. That comes with familiarity with one another and help from the quarterback to recognize pressure.
“We had one missed defensive line game on a third down,” Olson said of the protection against the Lions. “But, the other two pressures was an empty pressure in which there is a player unaccounted for that Matt Schaub needed to recognize. He didn’t recognize it until it was too late. We got blitzed on every third down, which is common. He needed to recognize that a little sooner and that, to the naked eye, looked like our O-line is letting a guy come free. That’s on the quarterback because that’s an empty protection. The other one, we had a cut block where we missed the cut block. We’ve just got to get better with our technique and the execution at parts.”
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