Few may know their names, but as everyone from quarterback Derek Carr to coordinator Bill Musgrave will tell you, the Raiders wouldn’t be in the playoff wild-card chase without them.
For lack of a plainer nickname, call them Five Guys because that’s what they are those five guys in the offensive line who admit to burgers and fries and find themselves below the football radar everywhere but the Bay Area. Yet they’ve been the impetus behind one of the most balanced attacks in the league, one that ranks ninth in yards per pass and 10th in yards per run.
“Yeah, definitely, we’re used to it,” guard Gabe Jackson said in a rare interview Wednesday. “We’re expected to do the dirty work.”
Last Sunday was fairly indicative of the line play this season. In a 38-35 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Raiders’ offense gained 440 yards. In 44 pass attempts, Carr almost had enough time to peel a banana and eat it. He wasn’t sacked even once. The group was whistled for one penalty, a false start.
Former Raiders greats Jim Otto, Art Shell and Gene Upshaw couldn’t have done it much better themselves.
“Yeah, we know who those guys are,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, people will talk about us after we’re gone like they do those guys now. We just try to be the best that we can be.”
In addition to Jackson, the first unit includes center Rodney Hudson, guard J’Marcus Webb and tackles Donald Penn and Austin Howard. Among them, only Webb and Penn weren’t drafted in the second or third rounds.
Even more impressive is the way the unit has jelled in the first season with Musgrave as coordinator and Mike Tice as position coach.
Last spring, Hudson signed a five-year, $44.5 million deal as a free agent, one of the best moves of the offseason. Webb had failed to distinguish himself at tackle with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings before he was moved to the guard position. Howard was an emergency replacement for tackle Menelik Watson, who ruptured an Achilles tendon in the preseason.
“We put these five guys together this year,” Musgrave said. “The right guard [Webb] has never played there before, and he has done a super job and gets better every week. I’m really pleased with Donald and how physically he’s [playing]. We don’t have Menelik this year, but Austin has stepped in and done a terrific job and gets better each and every week.
“Our left guard and center in Gabe and Rod, those are our bruisers. They are very smart, very physical. They set the tone for everyone else.”
Last week, Hudson suffered a sprained ankle in the second half and did not return to the game. X-rays were negative, but it wasn’t known whether the injury was a high ankle sprain, which would sideline him for an extended period.
“Rodney is our leader,” Jackson said. “He works his butt off and keeps us on the same page. He leads by example. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does talk, his words carry some weight.”