Raiders offensive line continues its growth spurt

Raiders offensive line continues its growth spurt

At one point during an 11-on-11 segment of Thursday’s organized team activity practice, the Raiders unleashed 10 straight run plays.

What stood out most was the way that the offensive line was operating at the point of attack and on the second level. It had all the feel of an offense that wants to force the issue.

The line’s success rests in brawn, brains and timeliness. Those are characteristics offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo wants his group to hang its hat on and the impression it leaves on the defense.

“Smart. Tough. Play their best football when it counts,” Bricillo said after the Raiders wrapped up practice at their Henderson headquarters.

Those adjectives recently haven’t been associated with the Raiders’ offensive line. It certainly wasn’t last year when a series of offseason trades and in-season injuries pushed the depth chart to its limit, resulting in a group that far too often was a weak link.

The Raiders survived up-front issues and won 10 games, punching their first ticket to the playoffs since 2017. But it seemed to be in spite of the offensive line rather than because of it.

Fast forward to this week and a Raiders team with elevated expectations knowing it can’t afford to work around another shaky season from the offensive line.

On paper, the Raiders are a better team than the one that pushed the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals to the brink of overtime in the first round of the playoffs thanks to the addition of wide receiver Davante Adams and edge rusher Chandler Jones.

But a case can be made that their AFC West rival Chargers and Broncos improved just as much. Meanwhile, as long as Patrick Mahomes is the quarterback in Kansas City the Chiefs will always be a challenge.

That puts a huge spotlight on the offensive line, which returns mostly intact from last year save for the addition of veteran Alex Bars and draft picks Dylan Parham and Thayer Munford. Whatever big step forward the offensive line takes will come down to individual improvement from holdovers left tackle Alex Leatherwood, left guard John Simpson and center Andre James.

Denzelle Good, the veteran right guard who was lost for the season after suffering a knee surgery in the season opener, is back as are backups Jermaine Eluemunor, Lester Cotton, Brandon Parker and Jackson Barton.

Good has not been cleared to return — Cotton took the bulk of the first-team snaps at right guard Thursday — but the rest of the linemen have been busy during the last month laying a new foundation under Bricillo.

It’s early, but Bricillo already is seeing traits he wants from the line. On Thursday when the offensive line delivered a crisp, efficient workout.

“As we’ve kind of gotten the basics of the system installed and now we’re kind of rehashing stuff and hearing it for the second and third time, I’ve had an opportunity to start challenging on some of those things,” Bricillo said. “Of what you want your resume to be. When we put the film out there, what’s your resume? So we’re starting to move toward that a little bit.”

Of course, a ton rests on the shoulder of Leatherwood, a first-round pick last year he had an up and down rookie season while moving from right tackle to right guard.

Leatherwood is working extensively at tackle this offseason, and could end up reclaim that job. If he does so at a decisive level, the line has a chance to take a big step forward.

“He’s a worker, He cares,” Bricillo said. “He’s got a high standard for himself, just like the other guys, and that’s a good thing.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.