This is the second piece in our series profiling veterans acquired by the Oakland Raiders during free agency. As has been noted over and over again, the Raiders signed a number of guys who many believe could be well past their prime if not on their way out of the league. That is because most of those guys have two things in common: advanced age and signs of decline in their play in recent seasons. In our first piece we looked at running back Maurice Jones Drew. Today, it’s offensive tackle Donald Penn.
Back in 2010, Donald Penn was a Pro Bowl tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season, he allowed the second most sacks of any tackle in the league and was released by the Bucs on March 13. Luckily for him, the Raiders’ plans for their left tackle position had gone down the drain when Jared Veldheer signed with the Arizona Cardinals and their attempt to sign Rodger Saffold went down in flames. Penn did not spend long on the free agent market as he signed a two year deal with the Raiders on March 19.
But does Penn have anything left? He did not suffer an injury like Maurice Jones Drew did, so what happened to Penn?
With Penn there are likely two contributing factors to his poor 2013 campaign. First, at 31 years old, Penn is just getting older and likely seeing some of his physical abilities decay. The other factor is that he played on an offensive line that was in complete turmoil. After losing his offensive line partner, left guard Carl Nicks to injury, Penn had issues playing along side a rotation of below average talent as the Bucs struggled to find a replacement.
Penn is not blaming the injuries for his poor play but he has said that it impacted him. Success on the offensive line is often dependent on the various positions working in coordination with each other. Penn said that it was difficult to learn the timing and tendencies of the various guys he played alongside. He should have a much better time playing on the Raiders’ upgraded offensive line but he still has to be concerned about his physical deficiencies.
Because of this, Penn has spent the offseason working on his foot speed, trying to make up for any loss in quickness that he has sustained. Typically, the success of a blindside protector will hinge in part on their ability to get in position quicker than the smaller and faster defensive ends they are taking on. Penn believes that if he can get his foot speed up, he will be able to play at a high level once again.
The Raiders and their new quarterback Matt Schaub are hoping that Penn is right and that his hard work will get him back to playing at a high level.