Raiders’ success in 2022 could hinge on answers to offensive line questions

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HENDERSON, Nev. — The Raiders offensive line is in a troubling place. It’s been repeated over and over throughout the offseason, but it’s a must-have topic as the coaching staff works to put together a blocking plan for Sunday’s season opener against Joey Bosa. , Khalil Mack and the Chargers’ revamped defensive front.

The expected starting unit of left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard John Simpson, center Andre James, right guard Lester Cotton Sr. and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor is not exciting. Many have wondered why the Raiders haven’t used their cap space — Over The Cap has them over $16.4 million — to go and sign offensive linemen like Daryl Williams, Bobby Massie, Brandon Shell, Ereck Flowers, Quinton Spain or Michael Schofield, but the front office just doesn’t think much of the free agents still available on the market.

And even if they did sign someone at this point, it would be a big ask for them to take over the system from offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo and coach Josh McDaniels so late in the process and play at an adequate level. For better or worse, the most likely outcome is that the Raiders will choose to work with what they have on the O line. Miller is a commodity known as an above-average left tackle, but he’s the only one among the group. Everyone has plenty of room to grow.

“We’re all on social media, so it’s pretty easy to see what people are saying,” Eluemunor said Wednesday. “You just have to block out the noise, but also know that you have to be better.”

There were a lot of moving parts between Denzelle Good retiring, Brandon Parker suffering from a season-ending injury, Alex Leatherwood being released, and several players lining up at different positions, but they were still able to work on their continuity.

“I feel like this O-line unit has bonded. And that’s all we’ve done is just try to create this brotherhood and be one,” Cotton said Wednesday. “All this offseason, OTAs and pre-season, I feel like that’s what we tried to attack. … Once you have that link on the O line, it’s really hard to break it.

Despite the addition of Davante Adams, the O line remains the foundation of the attack. In many ways, the ceiling of the unit rests on his shoulders.

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“It really starts up front with us,” rookie guard/center Dylan Parham said Wednesday. “We just make sure we somehow protect or run away from the ball and make sure we have that aggressiveness and that type of mentality. That’s really the main thing we’ve been focusing on for the past few weeks. … We have to be as close as possible to communication and little things like that and be in mutual agreement. It just helps us to come together more and more. It’s little things that we insist on just to make sure we can be the best version we can be when it’s time to play.

Bricillo has a detail-oriented style and emphasized over-communication, fundamentals and hard work. That, along with being challenged by the Raiders’ star-studded defensive line of Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby, pushed the group to hold themselves accountable ahead of the season in a bid to set a standard.

“You have to play at this level every day. If you don’t, you are going to be exposed,” Eluemunor said. “So this offseason coming into this season, we’ve all said we’re going to have a level that we’re going to hold ourselves to and that we’ll be accountable for. And, if we don’t, then we’ll take it upon ourselves to tell the person “We said we were going to play this level. You’re not playing this level. Pick it up or someone else will take your job.

For the Raiders, it’s not just a cliché. Parham is a legitimate threat to step in somewhere on the inside offensive line and fellow rookie Thayer Munford Jr. is battling Eluemunor for the starting spot at right tackle. Aside from Miller, no one has a safe job.

“If I let my guard down at all, I’m going to get passed very quickly. This is for everyone, for real,” Munford said Tuesday. “That’s why everyone is pushing themselves just to make sure they’re on top form and not just slacking off and being like, ‘Okay, I can beat this guy. Everyone has to have this intention like, ‘I know I can beat this guy; I’m going to show you that I can beat this guy and keep this consistency.

There have already been examples to prove that the coaching staff aren’t bluffing about this edict. Leatherwood was a first-round pick last year and was released after struggling through the preseason. Regardless of draft status or contract, staff will go with whoever they believe gives the team the best chance of winning. This constant pressure had an impact.

“As a unit, I think we’ve come a long way,” Simpson said Wednesday. “We still have a long way to go – I don’t think we’re perfect – but if we come to work every day and do what we’ve been doing for the past few weeks, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

In a way, the arrival of the regular season has reset the evaluation period. It’s important to keep in mind that the starting roster against the Chargers won’t necessarily be the same one that ends the season.

The Chargers will certainly give a good idea of ​​where the unit stands both individually and collectively. Outside of Bosa and Mack, they also have some solid rotating point rushers in Morgan Fox and Kyle Van Noy, who will primarily play inside linebacker but will also be available off the rim. And inside they have some great racing stuff in Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson. Additionally, Bosa and Mack are players who have the versatility to line up outside and inside along the line of scrimmage in order to take advantage of weaknesses.

“We don’t know exactly who is going to line up where,” Miller said Wednesday. “(Bosa and Mack) could be on either side; they could line up on one side with both. So we just have to be really fundamentally sound and try to be prepared for anything.

The Chargers forward would be tough for any O line, but especially for an inexperienced like the Raiders who has so many question marks. That they can hold on is arguably the most important factor of the game – and of the season.

“I always had this confidence of this confidence; when it’s been really good or sometimes when it’s been tough,” quarterback Derek Carr said Wednesday of his offensive line. “For me, I always have confidence before the game. I know that no matter what it is, I have a job to do: to move football and things like that. And what they showed in practice is nothing but they are trying to improve.

“And the way Carm taught them the pattern, the philosophy of the play is different in some ways, the way they teach things and stuff like that. I’m excited to see them play if I’m being honest. … But you have to block two of the best rushers and that’s not even including the inside guys who are amazing. It is a big task for anyone. … They’re loaded everywhere, so we have our work cut out.

Looking at the season as a whole, the offense won’t live up to expectations if blocking up front isn’t at least passable. While it’s true that the offensive line struggled last season and the Raiders still made the playoffs, it’s not something that’s sustainable and will eventually catch up with them if it continues. The coaching staff will do their best to make schematic and personal adjustments to avoid this outcome, but it’s ultimately up to the players to perform.

Bonus points

• The Raiders haven’t listed anyone on their injury report on Wednesday, so the squad is full. The Chargers, meanwhile, were without cornerback JC Jackson (ankle) and tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring). NFL Network reported that Jackson is not expected to play Week 1, but Chargers coach Brandon Staley said it would be a game-time decision.

• If Jackson can’t go, then the doubles against Adams will probably go up. He usually doesn’t care if the teams grabbing him bring his numbers down. If he becomes a decoy in certain situations, so be it.

“The thing for us is we just want to win the football games,” Carr said. “That’s a big reason why – I hope you’ve gotten to know him – ‘Te came to him is that there are so many other guns next to him. If they want the take him he’s got two other guys who have shown they can win football games Ultimately everyone will be comparing his numbers to what he was doing before And who knows what it will be, isn’t But I know we’re trying to win games and whatever it looks like, that’s what it’s going to look like.

• Adams made no bold claims about himself or the team when he spoke to the media on Wednesday. Essentially, his message was that they would let their game do the talking on Sunday.

“It will definitely be fun to see all the work we’ve done turn into a masterpiece; that’s (what) we at least hope for,” Adams said Wednesday. “Obviously we have a lot of great staff, but nothing is promised. So we just have to go. … We’ve done a lot of good in training now, so it’s time to put everything in place.

(Photo by Andre James and John Simpson: Ryan Kang/Associated Press)

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