ALAMEDA, Calif. — Kelechi Osemele was born and raised in Houston, but is of southeastern Nigerian descent, where the principal native language of the Igbo people is spoken by 24 million, written in Latin and includes 20 dialects.
His first name means, “Thank God.”
Or, specifically, what Derek Carr must think every time he approaches the line of scrimmage.
If it’s true the best way to construct a Super Bowl contender is from the inside-out, the Oakland Raiders own a significant edge on most others with legitimate aspirations of playing in early February.
Its offensive line was good in 2015 and great in 2016 and could absolutely challenge Dallas this season as the NFL’s best unit for nastiness and aggressiveness and physicality and just being a massive migraine for those who oppose it.
Good went to great with the arrival of Osemele at left guard last season, one of three Raiders offensive linemen to make the Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl winner with Baltimore in 2012.
His free-agent decision came down to Oakland or Minnesota, and he didn’t choose the East Bay merely for its weather, although who in their right mind would have blamed him if he had?
“This is the most tight-knit offensive line I have been on,” said Osemele on Wednesday, the second of a mandatory three-day minicamp. “We fight for each other every single play. This line is nastier than the one I won the Super Bowl with. It’s better than that one. Nastier, more athletic, more physical, stronger, better.
“We want to be known as the best. We don’t shy away from that at all. That’s all we talk about. We’re not worried about what the Cowboys are doing. … We’re worried about what we’re doing in our room, and it’s all about competition. Everyone wants to be the toughest, baddest guy out there.”
Tough and bad in this manner: For any of the preseason hype that will assuredly forecast big things for the Raiders, none of it will prove true if Carr goes down.
We saw the difference in Oakland last year when its quarterback was healthy compared to when tackle Donald Penn slipped in pass protection on Christmas Eve against the Colts, leading to the sack on which Carr suffered a broken right fibula.
We saw contender become pretender in one brutal snap of a football, and leg.
“It’s like seeing someone run through your home and ransack your family,” Osemele said. “(Carr) is family, and we take lot of pride in protecting him. It doesn’t matter who slipped up in the play he was injured. We all took it personal and how we’re going to do better the next time. We need to make sure that never happens again.”
They are directed by assistant Mike Tice, former head coach with Minnesota and in his third season with the Raiders, more straight-forward than rah-rah, more a guy who says little to his offensive linemen before a game and expects a lot from them during it.
Oakland didn’t maneuver through last season without injuries to the front, far from it, but the line still managed to remain a catalyst for one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Carr emerged among the NFL’s elite players behind it, while a running game that had been lost in recent times was revived into a weekly threat.
“We have built this team in the trenches,” Carr said. “Those are the guys who put fear in people. It’s not the quarterback. We might keep defensive coordinators up at night, but it’s not us as skill guys that scare people. It’s the guys up front, man. That’s where it is won. I would take our group over anybody.”
It’s also true the mindset of a champion differs from others, so as one of those Raiders with a Super Bowl ring, Osemele is in a unique position when it comes to offering advice on how best to reach the ultimate of NFL moments.
His is fairly easy to follow: Say nothing.
Show you want it by how you practice, how you finish, how you take extra reps in the weight room, how you show up early when nobody else is lifting, how you handle your meal plan.
“When people see that, hopefully they follow suit,” said Osemele, in his sixth season out of Iowa State. “You’re either with us or you’re not. If you’re not going to follow the process and do what it takes to be great, we can’t win with you. Everyone here understands that.”
They also understand this: If inside-out is really the way to go, the Raiders own a own a significant edge on most others.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
Projected starting offensive line
LT: Donald Penn (6-4, 315), 12th season, Utah State
LG: Kelechi Osemele (6-5, 330), sixth season, Iowa State
C: Rodney Hudson (6-2, 300), seventh season, Florida State
RG: Gabe Jackson (6-3, 335), fourth season, Mississippi State
RT: Marshall Newhouse (6-4, 330), eighth season, TCU.