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Raiders offensive line: Andre James at the front and center

The pivot-quarterback relationship is both unique and integral

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Las Vegas Raiders center Andre James, surveys the line of scrimmage before snapping the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers in the team’s Week 1 matchup last September.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The center-quarterback relationship in football is both unique and integral to the operation of the offense. When the connection between the comb is solid, so tends to be the offense.

OTAs and minicamps are often where the bond is forged between the pivot and the signal caller. That should’ve been the case with Las Vegas Raiders incumbent anchor Andre James and new presumptive starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, the Jimmy G is mending from surgery to repair his foot — the one he injured back in December with the San Francisco 49ers.

Las Vegas new signal caller got the “clean-up” procedure after signing with the Raiders back in March and by all accounts, Garoppolo is recovering well.

So where does that leave the synergy building between James and Garoppolo?

“Personally, I think the relationship you have outside of the building, outside of the football field, is just as important, and especially from center to quarterback to another offensive line,” James said during a post minicamp media session last week. “That chemistry, that trust you build that outside of the field, outside of the facility, just as much as you do on that field.”

James noted Garoppolo and the offensive line took in a Las Vegas Golden Knights Stanley Cup tilt to forge much-needed rapport.

“A lot of guys came out and it was a good win for the Knights. But it was even better just being around the guys, building that chemistry,” James said. “So, to go out there and have fun with him, spend some time with him, get to know him better; it was awesome. It was a great time.”

Garoppolo may be an active participant in meetings, film session, etc., but his absence on the practice field is still a notable one. Along with getting used to the cadence of the offense — something that Garoppolo has knowledge of being in Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels’ offense previously — the quarterback must get used to how James snaps the ball. And that’s both in the shotgun formation or under center. In Garoppolo’s stead are veteran Brian Hoyer, 2023 fourth-round NFL Draft pick Aidan O’Connell, and 2022 undrafted free agent Chase Garbers.

NFL: Houston Texans at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders center Andre James, top, goes to tap running back Josh Jacobs on the helmet after Jacobs’ touchdown run against the Houston Texans back in October.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

And through it all, James remains at the pivot as the center of attention. The 26-year-old’s performance since joining the team as a guard/tackle as an undrafted free agent in 2019 keeps him a steady presence on the Raiders offensive line. So much so, James continues to stave off Las Vegas’ eventual plan of moving promising 2022 third-round pick Dylan Parham to center. Parham did man the pivot when James missed two games in 2022 and has the Raiders’ desired position versatility by performing well in his 17 starts at left guard.

“Man, it’s great. Some of these days I walk in this building and it’s still like super surreal to me that I’m here and I’m still doing this. So, it’s amazing, man,” James said of his five-year career so far. “Just try to come in every day, just trying to get better. That’s all I can do. You know, not worry about the outside noise or what people are writing about, what people are saying. So, just continue to work and that’s been my mindset since day one.”

Continue to work, the Raiders must.

James served as an integral part of a Silver & Black offensive line that paved the way for a domineering ground attack led by running back Josh Jacobs. This after what was a peculiar musical chairs rotation deployed by offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo to find the right starting give in the trenches. Viewed as supremely suspect at the onset of the 2022 campaign, the Raiders offensive line held its on. Las Vegas is eager to again show it’s rush dominance and James noted establishing that eventually results in air superiority.

“We were able to run the ball pretty well. That’s not just offensive line that, that goes on everyone. That’s Josh (Jacobs), that’s the tight ends, wide receivers and that’s quarterback making those type of run checks,” James noted. “And as an offense line, you want to hang your hat on being able to run the ball. That’s like your main thing. You want to be able to run the ball because that helps setting up pass protection, that sets up play action, that sets up everything else for us. So, to be able to run the ball, we just want to continue to work on that and just keep growing.”

Also of note, general manager Dave Ziegler didn’t spend any draft capitol on an offensive lineman, instead opting for undrafted free agency and veteran signings to fill out the trenches. Even McDaniels noted “Improvement doesn’t always necessarily mean acquisition.” when referring to front five on offense. That instilled some pride into James and the incumbent offensive linemen.

“It gives us a lot of confidence. I mean, we’ve never kept this many guys around. So, it gives us a lot of confidence. It’s exciting because you’re familiar with the guys you’re working next to,” James said. “And that’s super important with the offensive line, being able to gel and being able to work with guys you’re familiar working with and being able to communicate with. So, it’s awesome.”

Confidence is high now. We’ll see how it goes when Garoppolo is back in the mix and, more importantly, when the pads come on at training camp. That’ll provide a solid barometer of what we can expect from the Raiders offensive line as the preseason clashes give us another window.