Oakland, CA — When the Oakland Raiders break camp July 24 (Rookies) and 28 (Veterans) in Napa, CA there will be a new level of expectation in the air. Despite ending the season two games under .500 (7-9) every player in the Raiders locker room sees what is ahead of them. A young nucleus of talented players has been amassed on both sides of the ball. On defense there is no doubt they have one of the games most feared defenders in Khalil Mack. On the other side of the ball not only do they boast one of the games top young quarterbacks in Derek Carr, but one of the top young receivers in Amari Cooper. Throw in Latavius Murray who they hope to keep healthy and you have a trio of players that rivals many of the top core groups in the game. It’s their game in the trenches though, that should have opponents concerned come game day. Let’s look at what Reggie McKenzie has done to protect their young signal caller and dominate opponents at the point of attack.
2015 saw flashes of brilliance for the Raiders offense under new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave. With Musgrave returning again expect a lot of growth from this offense. Up front the Raiders are bringing back their top linemen from 2015 and have added even more talent to compliment the unit. Oakland signed G Kelechi Osemele to a 5 year $58.5M contract, and if he stays healthy will be worth every penny. A powerful and punishing player at the top of his position at LG, Osemele’s arrival should send Gabe Jackson over to the right side. This gives the Raiders a serious tandem at the interior position. The other interior lineman, C Rodney Hudson works well with Carr to recognize line changes and instantly made the line better after signing last year from the division rival Kansas City Chiefs.
At the tackle positions the Raiders resigned LT Donald Penn who was ranked by Pro Football Focus as being top 5 among Free Agents. He will pair well with Osemele to protect Carr’s blindside. Right Tackle will be interesting as Menelik Watson comes back after rupturing his achilles during the 2015 pre-season and hopes to battle with Austin Howard who is coming off a season ending knee injury himself in 2015. Both of these players have proven to be solid on the line. Menelik, if he stays healthy, seems to be more athletic and probably has the higher ceiling.
The Raiders’ front office thought so highly of this starting bunch it wasn’t until the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft that they even took an offensive lineman. G Vadal Alexander (LSU) is 6’6″, 329 lbs. and fits the mold of what McKenzie is seeking to build in Oakland. A big, physical and athletic group of players that can dominate in the pass game while still being effective in the run game. Many scouts had Alexander as the 2nd rated G in the entire draft.
If there is anywhere the group hopes to gain big strides, it’s in the run game. The OL ranked #6 overall in 2015 and only gave up 33 sacks last year which speaks volumes about their ability in the pass game. They were graded as the #2 pass blocking group in the entire NFL last season though only #18 in the run game. Expect this to get better this season. Not only do they have another year in the system, but their offense is only getting better with all the weapons they have.
They might not be Super Bowl bound in 2016 (although it wouldn’t surprise me if they went as far as the AFC Title Game) but expect this team to win more games and dominate their opponents in the trenches. It really is a recipe for success that will translate to wins in the unforeseeable future for the Raiders whether they are in Oakland, Los Angeles or even Las Vegas. The Raiders return excellence is upon us.