While the Oakland Raiders find themselves with a record of 3-1, the team still has different facets to improve upon. During a physical 16-game season, injuries often occur and involve strategic placement in order for the team to recover. For head coach Jack Del Rio, management of the roster is key moving forward.
The Raiders have been hit with injuries throughout the first few weeks of the season, having to adjust in order to compensate for the loss. In particular, a few lineman injuries have the offensive line shuffling.
Offensive tackles Austin Howard, Matt McCants and Menelik Watson have all missed at least a game this season. With respective injuries, Del Rio and his staff have had to slow play their return, in order to keep healthy bodies.
During Sunday’s 28-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the offense line held strong. Quarterback Derek Carr was only sacked twice during the entire game.
Carr thanked his offensive line in an interview with NFL Network, jokingly thanking them for keeping for him upright.
While at the team’s practice facility on Monday, Del Rio addressed the strong play of the line, in particular with Vadal Alexander, via Kyle Martin of Raiders.com:
“The biggest thing that has stood out on film is that this guy moves people in the run game. The college tape showed that; a lot of movement and a lot of power with him” Del Rio stated. “We were drawn to that. I think the opportunity to grow him at multiple positions, a guy that can play inside or outside. Once a guy gets here, it’s up to him to take advantage of those opportunities and compete. That’s what he’s done.”
Alexander, a seventh-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, appeared in his third game of the season during Week 4. The 22-year-old demonstrated his flexibility along the line, playing multiple positions.
The ‘next man up’ philosophy has taken precedence for the Raiders. Entering their Week 5 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, a noticeable replacement will be needed on the blocking end.
Tight end Lee Smith was placed on the IR with an ankle injury, which is a devastating blow to the blocking scheme. Smith provided a hard-hitting blocker on the edge of the line, which opened up plenty of lanes for Latavius Murray.
Del Rio commented of the loss of Smith and how the roster will step up in his absence:
“It’ll take several people, in all likelihood, to fill his shoes because of all that he did, mainly the dirty work,” Del Rio said. “Mainly the blocking, the dirty work. Kind of an unsung hero kind of role where he’s just very tough, very determined. Yeah, we’ll miss him for sure, but like we do, we’ll plug in. We’ll design around anything we need to design around. We won’t ask people to do things they’re not capable of doing.”
After playing three of their first four games on the road, the Raiders return to the Coliseum for two consecutive home games.
With the team second place in the AFC West, the best start in a decade has the Raiders optimistic heading forward.