This off-season you knew there would be certain changes on the team. The offensive line was not going to be an exception. That was made loud and clear by head coach Jon Gruden in the NFL Draft when the Raiders went with offensive tackle twice, selecting Kolton Miller from UCLA in the 1st round and Brandon Parker from North Carolina A&T in the 3rd round.
Most Raider fans assumed (including myself), that Miller would be plugged in at right tackle, while the aging but still effective, Donald Penn would stay at his natural position at left tackle. Well, like in many things in life, never assume. Miller was plugged in at left tackle pretty much since the beginning of camp and hasn’t looked back since.
Penn, coming off an injury and holding out due to contract issues, most likely thought like all of us fans that once he returned, he would be plugged back in at his natural position. Wrong! Gruden decided to keep Miller at left tackle and moved Penn over to right side which has been a weak point on the offensive line for years.
Watching Miller play so far this pre-season, he keeps having one major issue. An offensive lineman is always taught to make the defender in pass protection either go thru or around you. Never let the defender beat you inside. Miller seems to have issues with this so far. He is way too light on his power foot (inside leg, which should always be flat and carry approximately 60% of your body weight), which allows defenders to beat him inside. The Packers did this to him consistently. Offensive line coach Tom Cable will surely point this out to the young rookie and will work with him on this small but all-important detail. On the positive side, Miller appears to have enough foot speed to handle the outside pass rush. If you see Miller get beat, pay close attention to his power foot dropping inside. Something to keep an eye on.
On the flip side, Penn’s first game back was just plain ugly. Penn has been a left tackle most of his career. Asking him to flip to the right side and switch his stance, while coming off an injury, is not as easy it sounds. Against the Packers, Penn endured these growing pains. While in the red zone, he got bull rushed all the way to quarterback Derek Carr’s lap, causing Carr to fumble. Penn had very little bend in his knees and just got dominated.
On another play, Penn was late on the snap and barely recovered before giving up another sack. It appears that he and Gabe Jackson are not on the same page yet. Penn didn’t look comfortable all game and it may take a while before the veteran tackle gets comfortable with his new position.
The other tackles have looked solid so far. Jylan Ware, a 7th round draft pick in 2017, has been at left tackle. He is still developing but he already shows more promise at left tackle than recent tackle prospects Denver Kirkland and the now-released Vadal Alexander. Parker, on the other hand, has shown so far that he is not ready to challenge for a starting spot just yet. He will probably “redshirt” this year and hopefully become a fixture next season. One player that has yet to take the next step is David Sharpe. He seems too heavy-footed at tackle and may end up getting kicked inside to guard, like another former Gator that played for the Raiders, Mo Collins. Additionally, Ian Silberman has shown flashes of being a serviceable player.
The bottom line: Miller and Penn must solve their footwork issues. Derek Carr needs to be kept clean in the pocket as he was most of the 2016 season when he was an MVP candidate. If Carr goes down again, so will the 2018 Raider season. Conner Cook and EJ Manuel don’t appear to be the answer as Carr’s backup but that is a story for another day.