Two weeks ago, Donald Penn returned to the field after missing most of camp rehabbing from a foot surgery. But when he hit the field, it wasn’t at his usual left tackle spot. He was lining up at right tackle while rookie top pick Kolton Miller stayed as the first team left tackle.
At that time, Penn said he didn’t know if the move was permanent. That the team said they were just trying it out to see how it goes. At the time the move was by necessity, in part because Breno Giacomini — who had been the first team right tackle all offseason — was out with a knee injury.
Monday Giacomini was released. And as scary as it might be to put a rookie at left tackle and a career left tackle at right tackle, the depth on this team is scarier.
Neither Miller nor Penn dressed in the team’s second preseason game, so the first time we got to see them on the field at the bookend tackle spots was last Friday when the team faced the Packers. It didn’t go all that well.
The first drive saw both Miller and Penn give up multiple pressures, ending with Penn giving up a strip sack on Derek Carr. Despite that scary drive, it sounds like Jon Gruden is determined to make this arrangement work.
“He did some good things. He had the obvious fumble play. I’m sure people will point to that and say it wasn’t a good performance, but I thought for his first time back on the field in a long time, going against the first team of the Packers, I thought he did some good things.”
Penn doesn’t have as much confidence in his performance as Gruden claims to have.
“Very rusty. I got a lot of work ahead of myself. I knew that going into the game. I knew that going into that week, I know that going into this week. Something that I knew going into that game that was going to be tough on me. I was excited to get out there and try it live. It’s a different speed in practice than it is in the game. I wish I could’ve did some things a lot better than I did. I saw some things I need to fix and some things I need to work on. The biggest part of it was my confidence. I’m trying to get some confidence in this foot and pushing off on it and planting and sustaining against the other big guys going into me. That was the biggest part.”
Penn has said that everything is backward for him on the right side and that’s tough to switch around on such short notice. He said that when he returned to camp two weeks ago. He sounds pretty similar with how he discusses it now.
“Playing left tackle for so long, I don’t have to think about it sometimes. I just know. Right tackle, now I got to think about this depth, I got to flip the play in my head. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it,” said Penn.
Each day Penn has been working with offensive line coach Tom Cable after practice. He feels like “time is on my side” being that there are exactly two weeks until the team opens the season and added “I feel like I’ll definitely be ready by September 10th.”
As for Kolton Miller, some point to the fact that he held up better after the first drive. True, he did, but the first drive is when the first team defense was on the field. Clay Matthews played just one series after that. How that gives Gruden the confidence to throw the rookie out there against the likes of Von Miller, Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, and Joey Bosa is beyond me, but that sounds like what he plans to do.
When asked if he’s confident Miller will start at left tackle come the season, Gruden said “Yeah, I am. I think he’s improving every week. He’s going to have his hands full all year. Just like every left tackle does, especially every rookie left tackle, but we are really, really excited about the man from UCLA. He’s got a great future in this league.”
Gruden said there won’t be many veterans playing in the final preseason game. We don’t yet know if that includes Penn or even Miller because he’s a starter. It was surprising when Gruden sat Miller for the Rams game, so I won’t be surprised this time if he does it again despite the kid’s need for reps.
Cue, Dark Knight Joker “Here. We. Go.” GIFs.