The Oakland Raiders spent considerable time and money upgrading their offensive line during the offseason. Bringing in three new starters and a new key reserve, the hope was that they could take a group that has been a weak link for a decade and finally make it a strength. Unfortunately, the offensive line has not looked very good in the preseason and was especially bad against the Lions in week two.
Heading into week three, the starting offensive line is (from left to right) Donald Penn, Khalif Barnes/GabeJackson, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard and Menelik Watson. In 2013, the whole offensive line was bad, but the interior was a special kind of bad. The Raiders replaced both guards and instantly it looked like a very upgraded unit. The tackle position saw Jared Veldheer replaced by Donald Penn, a much older player who was coming off his worst season as a professional and Menelik Watson step up to be a starter.
So heading into the preseason, if there was a question about any part of the offensive line, it would have been about tackle where an elderly statesman and a sophomore who spent his rookie season battling an array of injuries and who has only ever played three years of football are manning the starting positions. But thus far, Penn is giving reason to believe in him as the interior of the line struggles to gel.
Penn did not allow any serious pressure on the quarterback in Friday’s win over the Detroit Lions and also looked impressive in the run game. He spent the offseason working on his foot speed in an effort to counteract the impact of getting older and so far it looks to have paid off. He is playing well and clearly playing with a chip on his shoulder. Many of the guys who came to the Raiders this offseason talked about vindication and proving they still have something to offer. But Penn is already showing that in his case, it wasn’t just talk.
It is still incredibly early but the tackle position is starting to look like one that Raiders fans can be confident in. When was the last time you could say that?