Much of the battle in the modern NFL is won and lost in the trenches. While flashy plays by cornerbacks, safeties, receivers and running backs receive much of the airtime on Sportscenter, it’s the big men between the numbers that allow those plays to happen.
This reality isn’t lost on Oakland Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr.
“It’s not the skill guys that scare people,” said Carr after the Raiders’ minicamp practice on Tuesday. “It’s those guys up front because that’s where it’s won. I’d take our group over anybody.”
Carr is simply re-iterating what most of the NFL has recognized for sometime: It’s nearly impossible to win a championship without dominant line play. It’s not a coincidence that the Atlanta Falcons (6) and New England Patriots (10) were ranked in the top ten of PFF’s most dominant offensive lines of 2016 en route to their respective Super Bowl births.
“I think that how Reggie [McKenzie] and Coach Del Rio have built this team is in the trenches,” said Carr. “Those are the guys that put the fear in people.”
The assembly of the team’s dominant offensive line by McKenzie has directly correlated to success on the field and most of the construction hasn’t been homegrown through the draft.
Rodney Hudson was signed in 2015 and was PFF’s 4th-ranked center in 2016. Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn—who were both signed in the last three years—ranked 5th and 10th at their positions last season.
With these additions to the team’s blocking unit, as well as the growth and maturity of the Raiders’ young stars, the team has improved their record year-by-year since Hudson was lured away from the Kansas City Chiefs two years ago.
“We definitely want to take another step,” said Carr, who continues to see growth in the Raiders’ offensive unit.
The key to success for the offense will be keeping Carr upright, as he flashed MVP-ability before breaking his leg last season. After he was lost for the season the offense looked disjointed and lost before bowing out to the Brock Osweiler-led Houston Texans in the wildcard round.
With Carr’s health being integral to the team’s success, the role that the offensive line will need to play in 2017 cannot be understated.
“Those guys take their job so serious,” said Carr of the offensive line. “If I get hit it, like, ruins their day,” he said. “For that to be their mindset, it makes me happy to stand behind them.”