The opening week of the 2018 NFL season has already begun and the Raiders will be in action Monday night as they take on the Los Angeles Rams. For obvious reasons the media attention leading up to this contest has centered around Oakland’s decision to trade superstar Khalil Mack. While his loss will certainly be felt, it will not be the most important factor in determining the outcome.
That responsibility falls on the new look offensive line, especially at the tackle position.
Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller will be making his first career NFL start Monday night. Growing pains are to be expected with any rookie and how well Miller performs will affect play calling throughout this game and the season. Developing their raw yet athletic young tackle has been a focal point of the offseason program and the adjustments to his technique have been a big part of that process in playing right tackle.
“Adjusting my set,” Kolton said after practice Thursday. “That was one thing that was a bigger change up. I think it’s helped me a lot. Setting more vertical, in terms of (defensive line) games, switching off games, I think that has really helped.”
Miller’s technique is still a work in progress but it is much improved from his college film. As you can see in this video, he has a bit of a “rock step” in his right foot prior to his initial “kick step” that he needs to eliminate playing tackle. He also needs to refine his hand fighting but he is on the right track. He did have some good reps in the preseason and now just needs to focus on being more consistent.
Offensive tackle Donald Penn is projected to be making his first career start at the right tackle position. The initial results of this experiment were shaky at best but, again, the growing pains are understandable. Not only is Penn flipping his technique to play the other side, he is also working to get back into shape following his foot surgery last December.
“Very rusty,” Penn said following the Raiders third preseason game. “I’ve got a lot of work ahead of myself, which I knew that going into the game. I knew that going into that week, I know that going into this week.”
Penn has played the left tackle position at a ProBowl level and has a solid foundation to build off of. If he can get in shape and master his new technique, the Raiders could have the best tackle duo they have had in a long time. That combination will be important as the interior of the Raiders offensive line will not be able to give them much help. Guards Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson will have their hands full with Rams defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
Expect Oakland to use six and seven-man protection schemes and help their tackles with chips from tight ends and running backs. Getting the running game going will be paramount in this contest to keep pressure off quarterback Derek Carr. Los Angeles added cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib this offseason and their man coverage will force Carr to hold the ball and extra second or two. Any big plays in the passing game will most likely come from play action plays designed with max protection schemes.
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the most aggressive coordinators in the NFL. He is going to bring five and six-man pressures in order to force each lineman to block one on one. They will need to hold up to this onslaught if the offense is going to have any success in this game. Carr can also help himself by exploiting and gaps in the pass rush by breaking containment or simply running with the ball. Forcing the defense to respect him as a rusher could help to slow the defense down.
The Raiders drew what could be their stiffest competition right out of the gate. Going up against a Rams team that is built to attack and offense while the Raiders are still figuring out their offensive line is not ideal but they can still win this game. How their new tackles perform will go a long way in determining the outcome.