The dominant offensive line we heard about all offseason, was put to the test in week one. The depletion of the offensive line began in the final preseason game when Austin Howard rolled his ankle. He was ruled OUT vs the Saints and was inactive for the game.
Howard was a starter last season, making him one of the more quality backups in the league with Menelik Watson starting at right tackle. Even still, there were some snarky fans mocking the significance of a backup tackle being lost for the game.
It wasn’t even halftime yet and Menelik Watson left the game with an injured groin, not to return. With Howard out, Watson’s replacement was Matt McCants. His time in the game didn’t even last a quarter before he left with an injury of his own.
With rookie Vadal Alexander inactive for the game, there were no more reserve tackles on the roster and more than a quarter remaining in the game.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. And the Raiders needed to think fast.
They made pretty much the only decision they could. Donald Penn shifted from left tackle to right tackle – a position he has never played before – Kelechi Osemele shifted from left guard to left tackle – where he played the latter half of last season for the Ravens – and utility interior lineman Jon Feliciano came in to play left guard.
Somehow this combination was able to function well enough to finish out the game.
Wait, that doesn’t nearly cover it.
The Raiders played so well behind this patchwork offensive line that they scored touchdowns on each of their three drives in the fourth quarter. One of those drives lasted two plays, with Jalen Richard bursting up the middle of that line to go 75 yards to pay dirt.
The last drive, the line held up so well the Raiders drained five minutes off the clock and finished it off with what would be the game winning touchdown and two-point conversion.
“I think [offensive line coach] Mike Tice did a phenomenal job,” Jack Del Rio said. “I think the offensive line did a phenomenal job. Guys adjusted and carried on. It was really awesome to see. We do work on contingency plans, that’s probably as far [as we plan]. I mean, that’s exhausting it right there. (laughter)”
The question now becomes how much time will Watson, Howard, and McCants miss? Monday, Del Rio had no updates on their current status, but said he doesn’t think any of the injuries were in the “significant category.”
With Vadal Alexander available to them, the Raiders may be able to put Penn back at LT and Osemele back at LG. But not only would it not be ideal to have to start a seventh round rookie in week two, but if he were to get hurt, the shuffle would happen midstream again.
The team returns to practice Wednesday, which will be our first indication of whether any of the trio of banged up right tackles will be available next Sunday when the Raiders host the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons lost their season opener to the Buccaneers. In the game, they had 5 QB hits, 2 tackles for loss, and no sacks. Last season they had the fewest sacks in the league (19). To try and fix the issue, they added defensive end Derrick Shelby in free agency and drafted outside linebacker Deion Jones in the second round. Jones had a quarterback hit in the opener.
As far as opponents a team could face with a shaky Oline situation go, this is one of the more favorable match-ups. But even the worst pass rushes can exploit weak links.