Long before the Las Vegas Raiders matched up with the Miami Dolphins on Saturday, Carmen Bricillo said it perfectly.
“I think you see, like anything – I just had a meeting with them – you will see the good, bad, and ugly like an old Clint Eastwood movie,” the Raiders’ offensive line coach said during his mid-week press conference last week when asked about the young tackles, Alex Leatherwood and Thayer Munford.
“They’re improving, they’re working on their craft. I think a position, especially a tackle, as challenging as it is in this league, has got to be a constant improvement. We can’t ever get satisfied with that. You look at a guy like Kolton Miller, who [is in his] fifth year here, a talented guy. He is out there early, one of the first ones, and stays late to work on his craft. Thayer and Alex are doing their part, and they’re looking to improve every day.”
The Raiders’ 2021 first-round pick has played atrocious
Munford didn’t play against Miami during Las Vegas’ 15-13 win; Leatherwood did, however. Unfortunately for the Raiders’ 2021 first-round pick, bad and ugly are categories he doesn’t even fit into. What Leatherwood displayed in Saturday’s clash against the Dolphins was atrocious – especially for a Year 2 opening-round draft pick. So much so, that it erodes the work Leatherwood did in the offseason.
Leatherwood was beaten badly in the Raiders’ opening series and fared terribly as the game went on. He was bullied and got pushed into the backfield – right into quarterback Nick Mullens – and was easily whipped by a speed rush and beaten soundly around the corner by Miami’s Porter Gustin. Mullens didn’t stand a chance.
Another big sack by the defense! 💪 @PorterGustin
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 20, 2022
For a Josh McDaniels-led football team that preaches competition at every turn, Leatherwood appears to be playing himself out of the equation at right tackle. Brandon Parker, who was the favorite to man the right tackle spot, is out for an undisclosed amount of time with a similarly undisclosed injury. Munford missed the Miami game due to an ailment suffered in practice the week leading up to the preseason tilt. And Jermaine Eluemunor, another potential candidate to start at RT, was the starting left tackle due to Kolton Miller’s not making the trip to Miami (he was among a handful of starters/contributors who didn’t fly to Florida).
Those are the in-house options. There’s potentially more on other teams or hitting the waiver/free agent wire soon as teams must chop rosters from 85 to 80 on Aug. 23. That’s where the Raiders stand — for now. (The Athletic’s Tashan Reed reported the Raiders’ brass is none-too-impressed by the available offensive tackles on the free agent market now).
Raiders HC Josh McDaniels will have to work with what he has
McDaniels will have to make do with what he has right now. Meanwhile, Ziegler scours the current free agent crop and potentially awaits the cuts in the next few days (August 30th is the final 53-man cut down).
“Consistency. I’ve said this before, there are a lot of guys that are out there trying to improve and get better,” McDaniels said during his Sunday media session regarding what’s key to aiding players experiencing growing pains. “An offensive line, the unit itself, is really a collective heartbeat, if you will. When one man does something that maybe is not exactly what we want, then it’ll affect the other four guys. Usually, when that unit plays well, it’s the result of all five of them – probably plus the tight ends – doing their job the right way, with the right technique and fundamentals. So just stay consistent with what we’re trying to do.”
“We need to approach each day as an opportunity to get better and improve those things. But repetition, good repetition on the practice field, is where you build good habits. There’s no shortcut to it. We just have to put the work in and stay consistent with our effort.”
Consistently bad isn’t what McDaniels or the rest of the Raiders want to see from Leatherwood. The offensive line group was already a major question mark that needed an emphatic answer. Thus far, the resounding response is that Leatherwood ain’t it.
In fact, you want to see the attitude Eluemunor has taken this campaign to be Leatherwood’s drive, too.
Should Leatherwood take note of Eluemunor’s attitude?
“I got the opportunity a couple of years ago, and I didn’t really take full advantage of it. When I was in New England, like I said, I was overweight, I was sloppy and it left a bad taste in my mouth and everyone else’s mouth of me playing left tackle,” Eluemunor said during his mid-week press conference before Saturday’s game. “So, I took that as an opportunity to show people I’m doing this again, but this time completely different. I’m a new player out there, and I’m going to keep trying to show that every single week.”
The veteran offensive lineman shows the versatility and dependability McDaniels, his coaching staff, and general manager Dave Ziegler are seeking from everyone wearing Silver and Black. Despite Eluemunor noting that swapping from left to right tackle is taxing, he’s doing it for himself, the Raiders, and any other team out there if he gets released by Las Vegas.
“It’s tough. Going from right to left, especially when you’re more on one side during practice, is tough, but it’s the NFL and you have to be ready for any opportunity you get,” he said. “For me to start at left tackle during that game was a hell of an opportunity to show people in this organization and around the league that if given the chance I can do that as well and play right tackle also.”
“In my eyes, this is my last opportunity to become the player I really want to become, or I’m just going to be a backup for the rest of my career. I’m doing everything I can to make this happen. I’m doing everything possible to achieve everything I want to achieve in this game. Not everyone is lucky enough to get as many opportunities and chances as I have. Josh coming in here and Dave coming here, they didn’t say it, but in my mind, this is my last opportunity. So, if I don’t achieve what I want to achieve this year, then that’s my fault.”
Should everyone have more patience with Leatherwood?
People will preach patience when it comes to Leatherwood. And yes, patience is a good thing. But for these Raiders, a team going all-in to win a championship, patience is a virtue they don’t readily have. If the team wants to get the most out of Davante Adams, the offensive line must be in good shape.
Additionally, the lack of sound fundamentals is troubling. In fact, it’s looking more like patience will result in hoping someday Leatherwood will be good. It’s similar to how some folks hang on to Clelin Ferrell being worthy of the fourth overall selection in 2019. (That’s not a lot of people, mind you, as Ferrell is generally referred to as a bust).
Is it Leatherwood’s or Ferrell’s fault they got drafted where they did?
But where they are now as NFL players, a huge chunk of that falls right into their respective laps.
*Top Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports