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Burning questions about the Raiders offensive line makeover

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Photo:Las Vegas Raiders

During the offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders offensive line was rebuilt and retooled to be younger and more athletic. The Raiders offensive line, which was the second-highest-paid unit in the NFL a season ago for a team that finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, didn’t play badly, but it also didn’t warrant the investment being made by the team. Heading into Las Vegas Raiders training camp in 2021, the team has revamped the offensive line and many questions linger ahead of the unit taking to the field.

So what’s different about the Raiders offensive line in 2021?

The Raiders offensive line revamp started by restructuring aging guard Richie Incognito’s contract to clear cap space. Incognito went from a two-year, $12 million contract signed before the 2020 season to a one-year $2.1 million deal this spring. Hurt for the majority of last season with an Achilles injury, Incognito played well before that and is the Raiders offensive line elder statesman and his veteran leadership will be counted on to lead this new unit in 2021.

The team resigned guard Denzelle Good and center Andre James to two-year deals. The Silver and Black also brought back left tackle Kolton Miller for a three-year, $54 million deal. These Raiders offensive line veterans will be a crucial cog to the new line coming together quickly. Good is a solid swing guard while James will compete for the starting role at center in 2021. Kolton Miller continues to play excellent at left tackle and is one Raiders draft pick of the second Gruden era who has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

Las Vegas Raiders offensive line Andre James
C Andre James is a key returning veteran on an revamped 2021 Raiders offensive line. Photo: LV Raiders

General Manager Mike Mayock also looked at the free agent market and signed center Nick Martin to a one-year contract back in March to bolster the offensive line. Martin, who gives some depth at center on the Raiders offensive line, will also compete for the starting center job during this camp.

Raiders offensive line moves in 2021 yield draft capital

The Raiders also used the status and reputation of last year’s offensive line group to make moves and build draft capital for the future. During the offseason, the Raiders traded center Rodney Hudson to Arizona for a third-round pick, and completed another trade, sending guard Gabe Jackson to Seattle for a fifth-round pick ahead of the NFL Draft. 

During the first round of the draft, the Raiders selected Alex Leatherwood, a 6-foot-5, a 312-pound offensive lineman from Alabama. Leatherwood won two National Championships while playing for the Crimson Tide.  

Here are two burning questions regarding the offensive line heading into training camp, which begins tomorrow at the team’s headquarters in Heanderson

How will the Raiders offensive line gel?

Staying on the field was one things last year’s offensive line could not do. That fact hurt the Raiders throughout the COVID-marred 2020 season.

The 38-year-old veteran Incognito played the first two games of the 2020 season before landing on the injured reserve list. Offensive tackle Trent Brown, who was also traded last March along with Hudson and Jackson, missed time due to knee and calf injuries, and more time due to COVID-19 protocols. 

Good and Miller were two of the bright spots for Las Vegas last season as both started 14 games and saw 89% of the team’s snaps.

With three starters not on the roster for 2021, chemistry is the biggest question for the offensive line as they add Leatherwood and James into the mix to protect quarterback Derek Carr in the pocket and running back Josh Jacobs on the ground.   

Last season, Raiders quarterbacks were sacked 28 times, which ranked No. 10 in the NFL. A large part of that was due to the offensive line’s pocket security. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either.

Jacobs, who received his first Pro Bowl nod ast year, was one of eight running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards and recorded 273 rushing attempts, the third-most in the league in 2020. 

How much will the offensive line rely on experience?

Despite losing three starters from a season ago, experience will be a beneficiary for this offensive line. 

This is a big reason why Tom Cable begins his fourth season coaching the Raiders offensive line and 17thoverall as an NFL coach. In the past, Cable has been able to mentor players young and old and help them achieve multiple honors. 

Cable has shown he can tutor younger players, such as Leatherwood and James. For example, Cable mentored Miller when he was a rookie in 2018 when he became the first rookie lineman to start every game for the Raiders since 2011.    

In addition to the importance of Cable and Miller’s relationship over the last few seasons, the line will be led by Incognito, who enters his 14th NFL season and is coming back from season-ending foot surgery that he suffered in Week 2 last year. 

Martin, a second-round pick back in 2016 from Notre Dame, has started in every NFL game he has played with the Houston Texans, including all 16 games in each of the last three seasons. 

The fifth-year center also brings playoff experience. He was on the two Texans teams that made the 2018 and 2019 playoffs, playing in front of quarterback DeShaun Watson, in which he played all 220 offensive snaps across three playoff games.  

The Raiders begin its second season in Las Vegas with its first preseason game on Aug. 14 against the Seattle Seahawks inside Allegiant Stadium at 6:00 p.m.