Tuesday saw the return of Donald Penn to Raiders training camp. But it saw him at an unfamiliar spot. The longtime left tackle spent all of today’s practice at the right tackle spot with rookie top pick Kolton Miller at left tackle.
This move sent the football world into a frenzy. It’s a risky proposition to move a Pro Bowl left tackle to right tackle and start a rookie project on the left side.
On the other hand, it’s still early in the preseason, when there is still time to try out some things to see how they work.
“They mentioned it during some of this negotiations with the contract stuff,” said Penn, who just a day ago agreed to a pay cut. “We talked about it a little bit, not really at any length. And then this morning they told me that they wanted me to try it out today, see how it goes. I told them I’ll give my best effort and go out there and try to be Donald Penn over there.”
Even the best left tackle will take a bit of time adjusting.
“Today it felt very awkward and rusty,” Penn added. “I need time to develop. I don’t know if that’s going to be a permanent thing or not yet, but it is something we’re testing out and I told them all for it. We got a young kid over there, he’s doing a lot of good things.”
Penn once said that switching sides as a veteran left tackle would be like a left handed person trying to do things with his right hand. That’s how it felt for the 11-year veteran with 170 starts at left tackle.
“Very backward,” Penn said of the switch. “I went the wrong way today because I was thinking left side on my stance and Gabe reminded me and I snapped back into it right before the snap. That’s part of timing and part of the stuff that’s going to take a little bit of time, but I’m out here working. And these guys are working their butt off. I’ve been watching them, man. I just wanted to try to hop in and not miss a beat.”
This isn’t completely the first time Penn has played right tackle. Due to injuries, he stepped into the right tackle spot in the Raiders’ season opener in 2016 against the Saints for 18 snaps and held up well. Penn, however, said he gained nothing from that experience that can help him here.
“It was tough,” said Penn of playing the right side in the game. “I’m glad we won. I was out there battling, holding on for dear life. But it was tough.”
Injuries are part of why he is stepping in there now. Breno Giacomini has been working as the first team at right tackle, but he is injured. Since he has been out it has been Ian Silberman and David Sharpe splitting reps there with rookie third round pick Brandon Parker just recently returning to practice after being out more of camp.
Keeping Kolton Miller at left tackle is what the team has said they would like to do, but as yet it remains uncertain if that’s preparing for the short term or long term.
It’s clear for now they would like to give him a shot to prove he can hold up, while simultaneously seeing if Penn can make the switch to right tackle. The goal being to ensure they have the best five linemen on the field. And if it doesn’t work, and Giacomini gets healthy, Penn can move back to the left side and Miller back to second team until he’s ready to take the reins.
“We got a good thing going here,” said Penn. “I just want to help us win. I’m not playing too much longer. I just want to win. So if this is going to help us win, I’m all for it.”