Since becoming the Raiders fourth round pick in the 2015 draft, Jon Feliciano has been trying to find his place on the team. After toiling on the bench for most of his rookie season, he became a starter late in the season due to the injury to Austin Howard that had the Raiders shift J'Marcus Webb outside and Felciano brought in to play guard.
That was a big step up for Feliciano, but there was more to come.
"I've definitely made a lot of progress," said Feliciano. "Coming in last year as a rookie, I didn't quite know what they wanted per se. And now having a year under my belt it's definitely much easier, knowing what coach wants you to do and the plays and stuff like that."
This offseason, the team didn't re-sign Khalif Barnes for the first time in seven years after seven straight one-year deals. Barnes was a jack of all trades along the offensive line, so to move on from him, the Raiders would have to feel confident they had his replacement in house. They believe they have that replacement in Feliciano.
"As you go through the season, you always have to have versatility," said Del Rio. "Jon taking snaps at guard, center. He's matured, his body, he's matured in terms of strength and fitness and understanding what we're doing. I think Jon's off to a nice start with camp."
For the big second year lineman, the biggest area in which he needed was footwork. It was the one major knock on him coming out of Miami that he was heavy footed. The Raiders liked his power, but they also require their lineman have good athleticism.
For the most part, he has been the backup center - a position he played at rookie minicamp last year, but not again after that. As soon as the offseason workouts began, Felciano was making his home behind Rodney Hudson as the primary backup center. But the first time he was called upon to work with the first team was the third day of camp when left guard Kelechi Osemele missed a day to a minor injury.
Offensive line coach, Mike Tice, has like the strides Feliciano had been making this offseason, and was impressed with his work in relief of Osemele.
"Jon has taken a big step for us," Tice told a group of reporters this week. "He took all the left guard snaps for us in the first day in padded practice. Besides the fact that Kelechi's a beast, it wasn't evident that we were really missing anything. And now he's starting to understand coverage and being able to make the calls in our protections. Very comfortable with him being that sixth guy. Very comfortable."
It isn't an insult to any player to say he has little chance of unseating one of the Raiders interior linemen. After all, they are widely considered one of the top interior trios in the league. But if one of them goes down, just as happened with Hudson last season for three games, the team will need to feel confident they have a capable replacement. And regardless if it's Hudson, Osemele, or Gabe Jackson, that man at this juncture would be Feliciano.
"That's what I came here to do," said Felciano. "I came here to make an impact on the team and be an impactful player. And right now that's my role, to be that guy that swings around."