Last week Brandon Parker did something most had never seen before; he gave up sacks on three consecutive plays. All of those sacks were given up to Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon. The first of those sacks was a strip sack that was recovered by Terrell Suggs and returned for a touchdown. From there it just snowballed for Parker.
The rookie third round pick has no room to step back and ease back into things. Just like when he became the starter in just his fifth game as a pro, he must take the field again and protect the right side of the Raiders offensive line.
Parker said after the game in Baltimore that he gets upset when he makes bad plays, which could be the reason for that one bad play turning into three. It’s a common issue for young players who have to start so early in their career. Coming straight from small school North Carolina A&T to a starter in the pros, doesn’t allow him time to develop his confidence which leads to a shock factor against the speed at the NFL level.
“A lot of it comes down to confidence,” said Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson. “We look at those plays that came back-to-back, a big part of it was fundamental sets for him. He lost a little bit of confidence on the first play, so now he wasn’t as aware of his pass set. Again, it’s all about experience. The only way you learn from that is experience. With that player, we believe he has the right mindset. That he’s going to come back, and he will come back. This is all going to be a great experience for him in terms of moving forward as the right tackle.”
Parker will get no break this week against the Chiefs who sport two players in Chris Jones and Dee Ford with 9.0 sacks each along with Allen Bailey (6.0 sacks) and, of course, All Pro Justin Houston (4.0 sacks).
“Some of the difficult situations that we put him in early in his career. You just have to be mentally tough,” Jon Gruden said of Parker. “He has to be like a defensive back. You’re going to get beat once in a while. You have to have thick skin.”
Gruden acknowledged being able to have a thick skin this early in a player’s career is easier said than done. Few would understand that better than someone like former Raiders great tackle, Lincoln Kennedy.
The primary difference between Kennedy and Parker is Kennedy was a first round pick out of Washington — an FBS power five school — compared to Parker who was a surprise pick out of FCS North Carolina A&T.
Even still, Kennedy struggled to get a foothold at the NFL level with the Falcons, starting just six games at tackle over three years in Atlanta before they gave up on him. He was signed by the Raiders as a reclamation project and immediately became their full time starting right tackle, where he remained for either years, going on to be named an All Pro.
Kennedy spoke with Parker three weeks ago and gave Parker some advice. I asked Kennedy about what he said to Parker.
“I told him I said because he’s got all the physical [abilities] he needs to be successful, you got to develop an attitude,” said Kennedy. “Offensive line play is especially about attitude because you’re literally imposing your will upon another grown ass man. You have to have that mindset.
“You have to take it personally. You look at a defensive end, you kind of have to feel that that’s you wife or your mother back there (at quarterback); you’re not touching him. You have to have that in your mind. Because of the level of talent that he played against at North Carolina A&T, he doesn’t have that. He’s had no reason to develop. When you get in college, you’re probably a man among boys because he wasn’t playing against that premiere talent. But now you’re thrust into the lime light here, you have to be better. So, it’s a trial by fire, but unfortunately it’s a fire that Derek Carr has to come under because he’s the one taking the sacks. And I told Brandon ‘look you have to stand up because either you can play at this level or you can’t’. They don’t have time to develop players in this league, so he’s learning the hard way.”
Trial by fire wasn’t the plan initially for Parker. Former Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn was the starter at right tackle to begin the year, but a foot injury landed him on IR and the Parker era began. Though honestly, Penn suddenly switching sides after 11 years at left tackle was not a good idea either.
The team has said Penn could return this season, that he’s preparing for a possible return. He is eligible now so that return could happen as early as next week. Until then, there’s still the Chiefs pass rushers Parker has got to keep from destroying Derek Carr and disrupting anything the Raiders try to do on offense.
Putting that performance last week well behind him is key to that. If he is still rattled from that, he’s done for.