Updated August 14, 2022 - 9:11 pm
On the same day the Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-20 to win their second preseason game, nearly 500 former Raiderettes graced the field at Allegiant Stadium in honor of the group’s 60th anniversary.
Or about the same number of offensive line iterations the Raiders laid out against the Vikings.
In fact, it took incredible mental might Sunday just to keep up with who was lining up at what position as coach Josh McDaniels continued to mix and match in his quest to identify a suitable starting five and a dependable group of reserves.
With expectations for the Raiders as high as they have been in decades, the offensive line remains one of the primary question marks. To address it, the Raiders have essentially opened every starting position other than left tackle to competition.
The urgency is of the utmost at right tackle and swing tackle, though.
“We told them from the first day we got here this was going to be a situation where guys earn their opportunities. They’ll earn their roles,” McDaniels said.
On Sunday, that meant rookie Thayer Munford getting the starting nod at right tackle with Jermaine Eluemunor lining up at left tackle. By the second half, Alex Leatherwood was at right tackle with Jackson Barton on the left side. Eluemunor would eventually play some at right guard, and rookie Dylan Parham played guard and center.
In and around all that, it was a head-spinning ordeal trying to keep track of everyone else popping in and out of the lineup.
It is all part of the plan to push as hard and as long as they can to come up with a competent offensive line. The final grouping will reflect performance and fit above age, draft status or financial obligations.
As Leatherwood put it: “Just competing and trying to find the best five.”
The results were mixed against the Vikings, with the offensive line opening running lanes that produced 149 rushing yards. That pushed the Raiders’ ground game total to 299 yards over two preseason games.
On the other hand, they surrendered four more sacks and have now given up nine in two games.
Some of that is to be expected, especially without the benefit of actual game-planning and the fact Pro Bowl left tackle Kolton Miller has not played a down yet in preseason.
Nevertheless, McDaniels and the Raiders’ decision-makers will grade accordingly knowing how important the offensive line is to the bottom line. Anything less would be a disservice, which is why McDaniels has been so steadfast in creating such a competitive environment.
“The competition is real. It’s ongoing.” McDaniels said. “And I think it’s the healthiest thing we have going in the locker room because it makes everyone better.”
Munford is a good example. Last week he was the backup to Leatherwood on the right side, but a good week of practice meant the seventh-round pick from Ohio State drew the starting assignment on Sunday.
“He’s done a nice job for himself and earned the opportunity that he had today,” McDaniels said.
Meanwhile, Eluemunor, who had been playing primarily at right tackle during camp, was thrust to the left side when Brandon Parker went down with an injury against Jacksonville last week. It was an opportunity for Eluemunor to show he can be counted on at the swing tackle position, albeit a bit of a stress test given how his snaps have played out in camp so far.
“You never know what’s going to happen during the season, if Kolton goes down, next guy up,” Eluemunor said. “So even though I’ve been at right tackle, I don’t mind spinning over to left tackle to show what I can do there just in case.”
While McDaniels stressed not to read too much into who was starting and who wasn’t, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a thought process or cause-and-affect factor either. Part of which is the role each day on the practice field and classroom plays in how the game-day depth chart gets drawn up.
The message being sent is abundantly clear.
“They know they come to work and there’s something to be said about each day’s work that they put in,” McDaniels said. “That makes it more important, and so they come in with a great attitude, a great approach.”
After a long afternoon on Sunday, McDaniels wasn’t so much satisfied as he was pragmatic.
“I think we have some depth at tackle,” he said. “And some competition.”