The manner in which the Raiders’ offensive line finished off their 32-23 win over the Broncos on Sunday may offer a clue about where that critical position group is headed.
And not just in how they finished. But who did the finishing.
When the Raiders huddled up to begin their game-clinching touchdown drive with just over seven minutes remaining, the line consisted of left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard Alex Bars, center Andre James, right guard Dylan Parham and right tackle Thayer Munford.
Of that group, all but Munford played from start to finish. Munford replaced Jermaine Elumenor at right tackle and ended up playing more snaps than Eluemunor — 44 to 31 — and was on the field when the Raiders put the game away with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
“We take a lot on ourselves to be put us in those situations and keep those drives going,” James said.
Throw in the 204 yards rushing the Raiders accumulated and the manageable two sacks they surrendered, and the offensive line was part of the solution rather than the problem.
“I guarantee when we turn on (the film) you’re going to see 11 guys all doing their job and doing it the right way,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “That’s only going to help us if we can keep that mindset.”
Could this be the full-time offensive line?
Raiders coach Josh McDaniels isn’t ready to make that declaration. And certainly, the notion of manning the entire right side with two rookies, Munford and Parham, might be cause for concern.
But after spending all of spring, training camp, preseason and the first four games of the regular season rotating players in and out while trying to figure out an ideal five-player starting unit, the Raiders might finally be closing in on an end game.
“We’re heading in the right direction, relative to trying to get to the point where we don’t have to do as much of that,” McDaniels said of the constant shuffling of personnel.
Getting to this point has been a bit tricky. The Raiders this offseason were tasked with implementing a new offense, getting two rookies up to speed, working around a couple of key injuries and trying to give 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood a fair chance to earn a starting role, if not a roster spot.
Leatherwood’s inability to earn the right tackle role meant Elumenor and Munford were left to compete for the job. But a late-training camp injury to Munford sidelined him for two preseason games and nearly two weeks of practice, which meant their competition needed to be extended to the regular season.
If Sunday’s finish is any indication, Munford might now be nudging ahead of Eluemunor.
Meanwhile, the concussion suffered by James in the season opener sidelined him for two weeks and further clouded the competition. That necessitated the move of Parham from guard to center.
In addition, neither Lester Cotton nor John Simpson distinguished himself at right guard and left guard, respectively, resulting in their benchings ahead of the Raiders’ Week 3 game against Tennessee.
So Bars moved up from the practice squad to take over at left guard the past two weeks, and Eluemunor manned right guard against Tennessee.
Bars has been a pleasant surprise in his two starts. “Alex has been a consistent contributor to us these last two weeks,” McDaniels said.
With James returning at center on Sunday against the Broncos, Parham moved back to right guard, which appears to be his position moving forward.
“Dylan continues to develop into the type of player we think he can be,” McDaniels said.
And maybe, in the process, the Raiders finally have their starting offensive line.
■ Who: Raiders at Chiefs
■ When: 5:05 p.m. Oct. 10
■ Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
■ TV: ESPN
■ Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
■ Line: Chiefs -6½, total 51½