Alex Leatherwood was drafted in the first round expected to be an anchor at tackle for the Raiders. And while that still may be the plan for the future, for now Leatherwood moves to guard.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said one of the reasons this move was even possible was because Leatherwood has some experience at the position while at Alabama.
“Well, he’s played it again,” Olson said. “When we evaluated him for the draft as you know before he became the right tackle at Alabama he played inside. Very strong.
“We mentioned before he’s an extremely strong run blocker and he’s been a very intelligent player, and again, his athleticism allows him to be able to play multiple positions. He can play guard on either side, or in our opinion tackle on either side, as he continues to mature in the league.”
Olson said the team is always looking for versatility of players on the line, and with both of the original guards who were slated to start at the beginning of the season injured, it helps that a player like Leatherwood has experience to slide over.
“We liked the versatility that he has when we drafted him and now again as we’re looking at moving guys around,” Olson said. “It’s really nothing new. We do it throughout the season and in practice moving guys because of injury concerns that may happen throughout the season. So, we just really have liked his versatility and not everyone can move inside, but he is one of our tackles that can move inside. Just again experimenting.”
Parker getting the chance at tackle after Alex Leatherwood moves to guard
Parker is in his fourth year with the Raiders and Olson said he’s gotten bigger and stronger in that time. He has familiarity with the system as well.
“We think he’s come a long way since when he actually started for us in his first two years,” Olson said. “So, we’re happy with his development. We still think he’s not even close to hitting his ceiling. He’ll continue to get better. So, it’s just been a continued growth throughout the four years that he’s been here.”
He and the rest of the line will face a big challenge from the Chicago Bears’ strong defensive front that includes former Raider Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Inside run-stuffer Akiem Hicks injured his groin on the first play last week and missed the rest of the game. He has yet to practice this week.
“Hicks is one of their premier inside rushers, so we’re not sure yet where he’s at, but certainly between [Robert] Quinn and Mack they got two premier edge rushers,” Olson said. “It seems like we’ve seen that throughout this first quarter of the season. We’re seeing it every day out of Maxx [Crosby] and Yannick [Ngakoue], so we got two good players that are tackles to get to work against every day. And that’s the NFL, you are going to find those premier rushers on most teams, but overall, very strong on the d-line.”
Alex Leatherwood moves to guard for multiple reasons
Olson said moving Leatherwood to guard and putting Parker in the starting lineup at right tackle aren’t the only moves the team will make to protect quarterback Derek Carr when he goes back to pass.
He said the team will look at how the running backs and tight ends can help in protection, and also look for ways for Carr to get rid of the ball sooner. Olson said the coaches too have to take some responsibility as well.
“It’s a process,” Olson said. “We’re just trying to get better like we’ve talked about from day one. It’s an ongoing process. Certainly, it’s an area that we have looked at and realized we need to address and anyone on the outside can see that. We’ll continue to emphasize and address it in how we practice and how we prepare and the game plan that we put together, but it’s just an ongoing process.”
Whether or not Alex Leatherwood will be better at guard – his natural position – will be on full display Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.