It must have been a trip for Derek Carr when the stepped to the line for the first time Tuesday.
The faces in the huddle were the ones he’s grown accustomed to seeing, but when the team headed to the line, while they were indeed all familiar faces, they were in different places, particularly veteran tackle Donald Penn.
Penn, who has started 62 games as a Raider, all at left tackle, since he joined the Silver and Black in 2014, not only returned to practice Tuesday, but did so on the right side, flipping positions for the first time since a cameo appearance in 2016.
“Yeah, that was different,” Carr said when asked about Penn playing right tackle. “I think he’s only done it a few snaps in that one game, New Orleans. Yeah, so it was a little different, but that’s why you have good players. That’s why you add good players to your team, so that when things happen you can put guys in different spots, so that helps us.”
With Kolton Miller on the left side, and the usual trio of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson manning the interior, the veteran tackle spent his first day back from the Physically/Unable to Perform list operating as the team’s starting right tackle.
So, how did No. 72 fare on the right side in his first day back?
“I guess I’m like that fine wine, a seasoned vet,” Penn joked after practice. “Nah, I’m just joking around. I don’t know. One thing I was focused on today was just technique. A lot of times if I get in trouble in the game and stuff, I go back and rely on technique. So, today being in a new side, new position, I was just really trying to focus on my technique because I feel like if my technique is good, everything else, it’ll make up for lost things. Not being out there. It was good to be out there. I need to get back in that good shape. I’m in shape, but I’m not in football shape if you understand what that means. Football shape is different.”
Penn, who found out early Tuesday morning about the switch to the right side, was quick to say that he would do whatever it took for the team to win, but as of now, he wasn’t sure if his foray to the right side was permanent, or just on a trial basis.
“They talked to me about it, about trying it out,” Penn explained. “Seeing what it would do. Seeing how I feel over there and I told them I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win. If you guys feel like this is going to be in the best interest of the team, I’ll do it. Today it felt very awkward and rusty, but I need time to develop. I don’t know if that’s going to be a permanent thing or not yet, but it is something we’re testing out. I told them I’m all for it.”
While we don’t know exactly where Penn will be lined up come Week 1 – or even this Saturday in the team’s second preseason game – having No. 72 back in the mix is nothing but a net positive for Head Coach Jon Gruden and his staff.
First, Penn is a three-time Pro Bowler, and regardless of where he calls home on the offensive line, the eleven-year vet likely makes any unit he’s a part of better.
Secondly, with Penn off the PUP list and back to work, he not only adds more depth to the one of the Raiders’ strongest position groups, he also has a chance to continue coaching up the young guys on the offensive line, most importantly Miller and Brandon Parker.
Like we said earlier, Penn’s exact job on the Raiders is yet to be finalized – the man is obviously a Pro Bowl left tackle, but playing him on the right side does create some intriguing possibilities for offensive line coach Tom Cable, a coach who No. 72 said is one of the best he’s ever had.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play for some good O-Line coaches in Coach [Mike] Tice, Bill Muir back in my younger days with [Head Coach Jon] Gruden,” Penn said. “But you know, Coach Cable he’s up there. He’s probably one of the top offensive line coaches. The coach’s knowledge, the way he coaches his guys. If it’s something for me, he’s not going to change it. He’s just going to be like, ‘OK, that’s what you do? I’m going to mold your game to that.’ Some coaches try to change you. You got to do it this way, this way, this way. He’ll find ways to make what you do right. That helps you being a player, especially helps me being a vet because I’ve been doing some stuff for so long that’s different to him.”
At the end of the day, whether it’s on the left side, right side, or somewhere in between, Penn’s return does nothing but solidify the Raiders’ offensive line, a line that has the ability to be the best in the league.
And with a franchise quarterback like Derek Carr to protect, a good line is an absolutely necessity for the success of the Silver and Black in 2018.