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Donald Penn sees one major part missing from his comeback story

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Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Call it vindication. Call it rejuvenation. Call it what you will. But you won't hear Donald Penn talk like that. He will hear none of it.

Even after a season which saw him return to being considered one of the top left tackles in the NFL, following his worst season as a pro which resulted in his being released by the team on which he had once represented in the Pro Bowl, vindication is not how he would describe it.

Sure, he came to the Raiders with a self-proclaimed ‘chip on his shoulder' and ‘something to prove'. Sure, by anyone's measure, he exorcised his demons and proved at the age of 31 that he was still plenty capable of performing at a high level; leaving his disastrous 2013 to look like more of a fluke than the start of a trend. Sure, that happened.

But it's not enough. There's something missing.

"I want to win," Penn said over the phone Thursday. "When you only win three games in a year, it's kind of tough to say you did something. Because you only won three games. It's a team sport. I want to win and that's my biggest thing. If I had a bad season and we won, I'd rather have that than have a good season and lose. I want to win. So, next year I'm gonna do my best and I'm working my butt off so I can have a good season AND we win. As a team."

Winning is always the most important thing -- one might even say it was the 'only' thing. It becomes more obvious just how important it can be when you go from a 4-win team right to a team that wins 3 games.

His former team, the Buccaneers finished 2-14 last season and are perhaps realizing that Donald Penn was not the issue. Still Penn harbors no ill will toward the organization which gave the undrafted free agent his start in the NFL. At this point he has nothing but gratitude for how his career has progressed, even his release which resulted in a homecoming for the California native.

"I'm always gonna love the Buccaneers," said Penn. "They were my first jam, my first opportunity. I played 8 years there, 8 years of my life there. Buccaneers will always have a place in my heart... I wish the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the best, I really do. I really hope they get to turn things around. I got a lot friends that still play there and I wish them luck. It's a great town, they got a great city, great fan base.

"But, you know what? With the way things happened, I couldn't have it any better way, man. I love being in Oakland. I grew up in LA, grew up cheering for them so what more could you ask for? I'm really truly blessed it happened this way and I live in LA, so it's like the perfect match. What would be even better is when we turn this thing around, being a part of the turnaround. I can't wait to do that. Being able to tell my kids about it when I get older and stuff like that."

Wins aren't the only thing Penn isn't content with. Last offseason he found himself doubting his abilities and whether his abilities might be slipping. So, he went to work ensuring that he prepared himself physically -- mostly consisting of footwork drills. He also plays a lot of basketball to help with his quickness.

This time last year, several months before he was to report for offseason programs, he was working out with his trainer, Travelle Gaines, to hone in on his areas of need.

That work clearly paid off as Penn -- as he has his entire career -- didn't miss a single game and was the seventh highest graded left tackle in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Though you may not have noticed it considering the complete lack of Pro Bowl buzz.

Gaines has moved to Las Vegas now so this offseason Penn has been training with a company called Pro Active. Though he said Gaines will be back in LA this summer at which point he will work with him again.

Penn may have proven himself to those of us watching, but the Raiders have an all new coaching staff now. He and last year's offensive coordinator, Greg Olson knew each other well as they had worked together before.

Jack Del Rio and his new staff will be walking in with fresh eyes and evaluating every player, something Penn knows all too well as this will be his third straight season with a completely new coaching staff and fourth out of his last five years.

"Every time you get a new coach you gotta go back looking your best because they don't know you, they've never seen you before. I've been through this before so I know what it entails."

With a new coaching staff comes a lot of uncertainty with some excitement as well. Penn can't afford to rest on his laurels. He has to approach this offseason as he did last year - fresh from being cut after his worst season as a pro. It's that same approach that took him from an undrafted free agent to rookie starter to Pro Bowler in his fourth year. And if you ask him, he has plenty to keep him motivated and plenty more to prove.

"I'm still not happy with some of the things that went down last year with my play and ways to get better," Penn continued. "I'm my biggest critic. I'm still driving, still working hard, still got that in the back of my head, gotta prove [myself]. I had a pretty good year and at this point I didn't get a lot of mention in the Pro Bowl talk. That drives me too. I wanna get stuff like that.

"I'm trying to do whatever it takes to help this team win this next year. Building off of what [Derek] Carr did last year and me being a key piece in Carr's success, that's enough motivation for me and I'm working my tail off because I see what Carr has and he has a bright future and I want to make that possible being the left tackle."

If Penn keeps putting up performances like he did last season, Derek Carr will have plenty to feel good about. And those wins will come along with it.