The Raiders didn’t plan on rotating players along the offensive line in their first three games. Seven line combinations in the first month of the season is unheard of in the NFL.
But a combination of injuries, a surprise retirement and some players not taking advantage of the opportunity to establish themselves as a starter forced the hand of coach Josh McDaniels.
Hence, the use of the early part of the season to tinker with the line in the hope of eventually settling on a group of five starters.
That included Sunday’s game at Tennessee, a 24-22 loss, when an unsatisfactory level of play and practice performances meant John Simpson, who had started the first two games at left guard, and Lester Cotton, who started at right guard in Week 2 against the Cardinals, were benched in favor of Alex Bars and Jermaine Eluemunor, respectively.
That’s also why rookie Thayer Munford got the nod at right tackle in place of Eluemunor, who started at that position in the first two weeks.
It wasn’t perfect, but given how the unit had struggled in the first two games and how the score enabled the Titans to attack quarterback Derek Carr with a multifaceted pass rush, it was arguably the best effort of the season.
By now, it has become more normal than odd, at least for the people most involved.
“I know Josh and our offensive staff are working really hard to find that group,” Carr said. “We had different guys in there (Sunday), and I thought they played well. I thought they did some really good things. There are definitely things they will want to work on, but time on task will help them.”
Simpson and Cotton took zero snaps at either guard spot, and two things can be deduced from their lack of playing time: The Raiders have soured on both as starters, or Bars and Eluemunor played well enough to take all the starting snaps.
Given that Bars and Eluemunor had average games, it probably has more to do with the former than the latter.
Bars was assessed two penalties and allowed two quarterback hurries and two quarterback hits in 70 snaps. Eluemunor was flagged for a key holding penalty and allowed one quarterback hit, two hurries and three pressures in 70 snaps.
Nevertheless, McDaniels seemed pleased with their performances. And, depending on the status of center Andre James, who has missed the past two games with a concussion, the same tandem could start again Sunday when the Raiders (0-3) host the Broncos (2-1) at Allegiant Stadium.
Munford could, too. He held up reasonably well in his first career start, allowing one sack and one pressure in 70 snaps.
This was against a Titans defensive line that features an excellent tackle (Jeffery Simmons) and outside linebacker (Denico Autry). So, given the 5.1 yards per rushing attempt the Raiders averaged and the one sack surrendered on 45 pass drops, this version of the offensive line played reasonably well.
“I thought we ran the ball effectively, albeit not as much as we would like to because the score gets flipped on us again,” McDaniels said.
Carr, who threw for 303 yards, generally had enough time to throw, at least more than in the first two games. And that was with the Raiders playing from behind and the Titans knowing they had to throw to get back into the game.
“The pass protection generally was decent,” McDaniels said. “When you throw it 40-some times against that rush, there’s going to be some pressures.”
If James is cleared to play, his replacement, rookie Dylan Parham, probably will move back to one of the guard spots. He excelled at right guard against the Chargers in the opener, then moved to center when James suffered his concussion.
Sliding back to guard should boast one of those spots, with left guard seemingly the more plausible landing spot.
If Munford can hold onto his starting job at right tackle, it would mean two rookies in the starting lineup.
“We certainly liked both players when we drafted them, and I don’t think they’ve let us down at all,” McDaniels said.
Note — The Raiders signed defensive back Darren Evans to the practice squad and released defensive back J.R. Reed from the practice squad.
Who: Broncos at Raiders
When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Allegiant Stadium
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Raiders -2½; total 45