Updated August 2, 2021 - 4:21 pm
The age gap between Richie Incognito and his younger Raiders offensive linemates rarely seems an issue these days. More often than not, the 38-year-old is grinding away the hardest during the morning training camp practices in the blistering heat.
But every once in a while it dawns on Incognito just how much older he is than everyone else. At some point during a weight-room session or in the locker room or on the practice field, his ears open up to the sounds blaring from nearby speakers and the age difference truly hits home.
“The biggest generational gap is the music,” Incognito said Monday, shooting a disapproving smile. “The music these guys listen to is terrible. It’s all the same … it’s nauseating.”
Taste in music aside, as Incognito braces for his 15th NFL season — third with the Raiders — the sense of belonging and kinship he feels with his teammates is as strong as any he’s experienced.
In fact, left tackle Kolton Miller and center Andre James have become almost extended family to him.
“I’m a single guy. I get where they’re coming from,” Incognito said. “I don’t have a wife; I don’t have kids. So I hang with the boys. Me and Andre and Kolton, all the guys on the line. There’s not too much of a big gap.”
And now there is a shared sense of responsibility to finally get the Raiders over the hurdle after two straight second-half season collapses.
“It’s time for us to just put this all together and make a deep run into December and January and ultimately get us to the playoffs,” Incognito said.
The bonds Incognito has forged with the Raiders made returning for a third season one of the easiest decisions of his career. But before making that decision, he faced surgery for an Achilles injury that cost him 14 games last season.
Incognito got good news when the operation revealed a less serious injury than originally feared, cinching his return to the team.
Almost immediately after surgery, Incognito’s focus was steadfast.
“Come back, kick (butt), be back with the boys and go out on my own terms,” he said.
The motivation only grew after the Raiders traded veteran center Rodney Hudson and veteran guard Gabe Jackson to clear salary cap space and make room for younger players. Raiders coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Tom Cable turned to Incognito, who agreed to a revised contract, and asked him to fill the leadership void created by the loss of Hudson and Jackson.
It was a role Incognito had long imagined for himself during his first two seasons with the Raiders. But out of appreciation for Hudson, the undisputed leader of the offensive line, Incognito deferred to one of the longest-tenured Raiders players.
“And now I’m the guy,” Incognito said. “I’m the guy that’s going to keep these guys going.”
Incognito believes the pieces are in place to field an effective offensive line, and he speaks highly of James, who is replacing Hudson at center, and rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood, who is replacing Trent Brown. Denzelle Good played well enough in Incognito’s absence to prove he can be a quality lineman.
“We’ve got a young group, we’ve got a lot of eyes on us,” Incognito said. “There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny. But it’s our time to shine.”
It has been a long and sometimes controversial road for Incognito. He was suspended for the 2014 season by the Miami Dolphins, abruptly retired in 2018 while with the Buffalo Bills, signed with the Raiders in 2019 and was suspended for two games.
“I’ve been up, down, all over the place,” Incognito said.
But he has found a home with the Raiders, the team he always had in the back of his mind and the one that gave him an opportunity when other clubs considered him too hot to handle.
”I feel like I’ve been taking the long road to get here,” Incognito said “And to actually come home and be a Raider, it just feels right for me. Especially with Coach Gruden and Coach Cable just letting me be me. I have the confidence to just do my thing. They trust me. They know who I am. I’ve shown them the best side of me.”
Richie Incognito file
NFL experience: 14 years