A number of Las Vegas Raiders players and coaches spoke about continuity and how that is a definite bonus this offseason. Stacking more connectivity to the synergy that’s in place is always a good thing for football teams — at any level.
As such, the Silver & Black have the entire starting five offensive linemen back in the fold. After a season where the team played a version of musical chairs with rotations to find the besting starting group, they’re all back.
Which is a wonderful thing, no?
For Raiders offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, though, his mindset is a tad different.
“As soon as the season’s over, coaches obviously catch their breath for a second and then you’re right back to it,” Bricillo said during a coach media scrum earlier this month. “ You look at an individual basis and then a unit basis and say, ‘Alright, what do we need to improve on?’ Absolutely there’s plenty of things that we need to improve on. It doesn’t matter where it is.
“Like I said, one year from the next doesn’t matter, you’ve got to put in the work each year to be able to have success.”
That last part is of particular importance.
Yes, Bricillo lead a unit that overachieved in 2022. It was a group besieged by ineffectiveness and injury. Las Vegas trotted out 16 different combinations through 14 games with several players lining up in different spots. The position versatility both Bricillo and head coach Josh McDaniels spoke about constantly leading up to the 2022 campaign wasn’t lip service. It was stone cold fact.
And despite the rotations, the Raiders ended up finding a starting five and Bricillo managed to coach a functional unit that was ground dominant and not a supreme liability in pass protection.
If Pro Football Focus (PFF) is your forte, Las Vegas’ front five ranked No. 10 out of 32 teams at the close of the regular season. This after PFF ranked them 31st after Week 2. Considering all those circumstances above, it was a surprise the Raiders offensive line wasn’t dead-last in every category imaginable.
Bricillo’s coaching style certainly played a large role in his offensive line’s ascension last season.
“My core philosophy is no matter what it is, a player has to know first and foremost, you care about them as an individual. If you’re genuine about it, then I think there’s a level of trust then that you can push them,” the offensive line boss said.
The pushing won’t stop — not by a longshot. Las Vegas’ offensive line has areas of improvement. Just because the Raiders have the starting group from last season intact this year doesn’t mean things can’t change.
And that’s where competition is key.
To a person, the Raiders coaching staff sounds like a broken record when it comes to the tug-of-war nature of having players earn starting gigs. Bricillo is no different. While the team has proven starters in Kolton Miller (left tackle), Dylan Parham (left guard), Andre James (center), and Jermaine Eluemunor at right tackle. Yet, the right side of Las Vegas offensive line can potentially see some movement.
Alex Bars, who started primarily at right guard in 2022 and Jermaine Eluemunor, at right tackle, could be supplanted by someone else.
Bars, in particular, arrived as a versatile linemen who played multiple positions up front and was seen as backup or even camp fodder material but earned starting snaps. He can be pushed by veteran addition Greg Van Roten who has 54 starts in 93 career games in his eight-year career (primarily at guard). Even at age 33, the veteran can fight for a spot. Along with Netane Muti, a 24 year old power linemen, and undrafted free agent McClendon Curtis, another power-type guard, competition is going to improve the group.
Ditto at right tackle where Eluemunor (who is well-versed in the scheme deployed by Bricillo and by extension McDaniels due to his own New England Patriots days) is going to compete with veteran Brandon Parker and Thayer Munford Jr. Parker, who missed all of 2022 with a tricep injury, was brought back this offseason with Bricillo noting he likes the veteran’s attitude and versatility. Meanwhile Munford heads into Year 2 after four starts at tackle in 2022 and is likely to be in the mix. Then there’s undrafted free agent Dalton Wagner is a big and tall option at right tackle and is likely to get his shot at competing, too. He has domineering run blocking ability while needing to refine his pass blocking.
Let’s not forget the byproduct of Eluemunor losing his grip on the right tackle spot means he can shuffle inside and start at right guard, too.
Bricillo is likely going to tinker and find the best starting five again this offseason, however, the team is hopeful it won’t be a long arduous trial by fire (and error) like it was in 2022. But if the wild circumstances again compound matters, Bricillo has proven he’s up to the task and can get his group to overachieve.