When the Raider veterans reported to training camp in Napa on Friday morning, one face was noticeably missing. Left Tackle Donald Penn decided to hold out for more than the $7 million he is owed on this final year of a two year contract; opting for top 10 LT money. Whether or not the 34-year-old deserves what he is asking for is open for argument, but not what this article will focus on. Either way the Raiders will soon be looking for a new blindside protector of Derek Carr.
After the Tough Break of 2016 and with Scrooge McDerek now swimming in coin after signing his $125 million contract, the importance of solidifying the LT position for the short and long term is more important than ever. Who do the Raiders currently have in-house to contend for that job in 2017 if Penn isn’t there?
David Sharpe was selected with the 23rd pick in the 4th round of the 2017 draft. Sharpe is a tank of a man at 6’6” and hovering around 350 lbs. Sharpe was a two year starter at Florida before entering the draft early. According to Pro Football Focus he allowed 15 pressures (3 sacks) in 2016. Against top pass rushers in the country he made his presence known with excellent hand usage at the end of his long arms, allowing him to control defenders with relative ease. He can often find the perfect angle to plow a hole into the soul of a defender or anchor to stop a bull rusher in his tracks. As a 4th round pick he does obviously come with flaws. His lower body technique will need refinement from Mike Tice and company. At times he can be stiff and find it hard to bend that 350 lbs. as far as it needs to when on the move. It might suit him to play at a lower weight.
It’s probably not ideal for him to be a starter at Left Tackle right out of the gates, but it’s also not out of the question that he can handle it. It might be a good idea to give him starter reps at LT while Penn is absent from camp and any Preseason games. He likely has the highest longterm upside of the candidates.
Kelechi Osemele was acquired via free agency from Baltimore in 2016 and quickly solidified himself as a force on the Raiders’ offensive line (and got paid like it) as their Left Guard. None of the Raiders’ interior lineman allowed a sack in all of 2016. Along with stacking pancakes at LG, Osemele was also asked to fill in at LT in a pinch when injuries occurred last season, and actually started a few games at LT for the Ravens the previous season. He has shown to be adequate at the position in his few auditions, but the question is whether it is worth it to trade in one of the best guards in the league for a middling LT?
Vadal Alexander was a 2016 7th round selection from Reggie McKenzie. He spent most of the 2016 season rotating with the now departed Austin Howard and Menelik Watson at RT. He often looked like a rookie, getting beat with speed and holding to save his missteps, but he also showed a powerful presence and versatility that could be honed for the near future. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has Alexander getting work at both guard and tackle in practice. It would be a long shot to expect Alexander to start at LT, but should Osemele have to be called upon to play LT, his name could be called to fill in at one of the G positions. It is more likely Alexander is in a position to contend for the RT spot than for any potential LT opening.
Marshall Newhouse is the chalk pick to start at RT this season. He is also getting the first crack at LT in camp. Is Newhouse same as the old house? Perhaps. Acquired in the offseason via free agency he’ll need to prove he’s more than just the next Howard/Watson if he stands a chance to play LT in a Penn-less 2017 scenario. Like Howard and Watson he struggled to earn and keep jobs, starting 16 games just once in his seven year career and more than 13 just three times. In 2016 Newhouse was a swing tackle for Giants line that performed well in pass protection but underwhelmed in the run game. While he is the presumptive starter at RT, the young players at the position will likely be given every chance to overtake him in the lineup. Newhouse would bring a veteran presence to the LT position if he is needed there, but it would be difficult to project him ahead of both Sharpe and Osemle long term.
Much of Donald Penn’s leverage comes from the youth and inexperience of his potential replacements. If his holdout lingers it could be an opportunity for coaches and fans to get a look at some of the younger offensive line talent on the Raiders’ roster. David Sharpe could see added attention from coaches and the veteran interior line he’d be attached to. Vadal Alexander could see his role at guard or RT increase. Other young players such as 2017 7th round pick Jylan Ware could also sneak onto the scene. While the short term prospects of imagining Carr’s blindside left in the hands of someone other than Penn to start the regular season might induce anxiety for many Raider fans, the long term reality is Penn won’t be there much longer anyway. It wouldn’t be ideal for him to leave just before the beginning of such a promising season, but if that did happen, one or more of the players mentioned above will have likely impressed enough to make him immediately expendable.
Written by: RediaR