Oakland Raiders: Donald Penn

NAPA, Calif. -- Marcel Reece was about to be presented with the Oakland Raiders “Commitment to Excellence Award” in March and NFL free agency was about to begin.

The two-time Pro Bowl fullback wanted general manager Reggie McKenzie to make “Raider-ass moves” with his signings, fearless moves, though Reece, who has been in Oakland since 2008, was also leery

“I’m not expecting them to come in and set the tone on how to be a Raider; they don’t know how to be a Raider,” Reece said that evening. “I’m looking forward to setting that tone and whoever comes in that locker room is going to work like us.”

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJustin Tuck is one of a handful of new Raiders who has been to and won a Super Bowl.
Paging the likes of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, James Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Kevin Boothe and Donald Penn, while summoning the acquired-in-a-trade Matt Schaub .

Together, the eight tote a combined six Super Bowl rings and 10 Pro Bowl appearances. Yeah, they know how to win.

The likes of Reece, Darren McFadden, Tyvon Branch and Jon Condo, meanwhile, know what it means to represent the Raiders, but they have never experienced a winning season in Oakland.

“In years past, the leadership was not the best,” Condo said. “Guys that are coming in…the young guys are looking at them and the vets are showing them, this is how you practice. This is how you study. This is how you prepare your bodies for the 16-game season. The way people go about their business, you see true professionalism on and off the field, doing the right things.

“Not to rag on what’s been here in the past, but it just seems like there was just a cycle with how veterans would act and young guys would look at that and think, ‘That’s what it takes to be a pro.’ And it wasn’t really the right way to be a pro.

“Now, you bring in the right guys and they are teaching the young guys how to be a pro and they’re going to carry it on three, four, five, six seven, eight, 10 years … to the draft classes.”

According to Tuck, there has been no push back from the older Raiders players.

“It’s not like we’re coming in here acting like we know everything; we don’t,” Tuck said. “We’re still learning ourselves. It’s never going to be a situation where, ‘Oh, y’all doing this wrong.’ We’re trying to work together

“At the end of the day, it has to be the Raider way … all the guys that they brought in know the history of the Raiders. … You found yourself fascinated by the silver and black and all the great players that played here and Al Davis and all the characters in Raider history.

“Now, it’s just a work in progress.”

Jones-Drew grew up in the East Bay a Raiders fan. So his coming home carried extra meaning, even if it meant playing for a team that has not been to the playoffs or won more than eight games in a season since 2002.

“The Raider way has always been winning,” he said. “But I think every franchise goes through some tough times. The guys they brought in had that Raider mentality already … doing whatever it takes to win. It was a great mix of guys, the correct mix of guys.”

And it’s not just the longer-tenured Raiders or youngsters who are paying attention to the new silver and black Jedi in town.

“We won one year in Jacksonville, so if Tuck comes in and says something, I’m going to listen … regardless if it’s against what I want to do or not,” Jones-Drew said. “They know what it takes to get to that next level, so you’ve got to be selfess and listen. And I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are doing that and it’s awesome.”

But will it translate into more than moral victories?
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Donald Penn watched the Oakland Raiders’ Jared Veldheer-Rodger Saffold fiasco unfold and had an inkling he might somehow, some way be affected.

After all, the Raiders had let Veldheer walk to the Arizona Cardinals and Saffold, who was to be Oakland’s first big-splash free-agent signing to replace Veldheer at left tackle, was injured, according to the Raiders’ doctors. And Saffold went back to the St. Louis Rams.

[+] EnlargeDonald Penn
AP Photo/Ben MargotDonald Penn is expected to be one of four new starting offensive linemen for Oakland this season.
Penn? He was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a day after the Raiders turned Saffold away.

“I look at it like this – everything in life happens for a reason,” Penn said last week. “And Oakland called me quick. My family was happy. They wanted me closer and I wasn’t ready to play right tackle yet.

“Being able to play with this [offensive] line and this team, we have a lot of chips on our shoulders.”

Penn grew up in Southern California a huge fan of the then-Los Angeles Raiders, so he saw the opportunity to wear the colors of his boyhood idols as a sign, of sorts. And the Raiders wanting him to protect the quarterback’s blind side, rather then be put out to pasture, so to speak, at right tackle more than piqued his interest.

The 6-foot-4, 340-pounder will be entering his eighth season. He was a Pro Bowler in 2010, when Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson was running the Buccaneers offense.

“Donald has great feet,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s really good and has been really good in pass protection, and so that was one of the things that we looked at. Not to mention the fact that [Olson] has had an opportunity to work with him and kind of understand him a little bit and what the buttons are that you have to push to kind of drive him a little bit.

“I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen out of Donald and I’m hoping for a big year out of him.”

Penn figures to be one of four new starters on a rebuilt Raiders offensive line, with rookie Gabe Jackson expected to compete for the left guard position, new acquisition Austin Howard making the switch from right tackle to right guard and last year’s second-round pick, Menelik Watson, being groomed to take over for good at right tackle.

Center Stefen Wisniewski would be the anchor -- again.

“I like where we’re at,” Allen said. “I like the versatility, I like the depth. It’s all about using this time … meshing together as a unit. The one thing that we didn’t have an opportunity to do a lot of last year was get the same five guys working together and I think that’s important, especially at that position because all five guys at that position, the offensive line, really have to work as one. They have to all see the picture the same exact way because the picture changes once the ball snaps.

“I’ve been pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish offensive line-wise and I like where we’re at.”

As does Penn, even if the Raiders are more than a month away from putting on pads and actually hitting each other.

Besides, a projected line of Penn, Jackson, Wisniewski, Howard and Watson would average 6-4, 326 pounds.

“We’re going to be a physical offensive line,” Penn said. “We’re going to play like the old Raiders … we’re not going to get stupid penalties or stuff like that, but we’re not going to take anything. We’re not going to take any stuff.

“We’re going to run the ball and we’re going to run the ball and run the ball, until they stop us from running the ball … we’re going to dictate the tempo.”

Raiders offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Oakland Raiders' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Photo/Michael ConroThe Raiders were happy to land versatile linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round.
Best move: Letting the NFL draft come to them. By sitting tight in the first round, the Raiders saw playmaking linebacker Khalil Mack fall into their laps at No. 5 overall. By sitting tight in the second round, the Raiders saw their quarterback of the future fall into their laps at No. 36 overall. General manager Reggie McKenzie gets high marks for not overthinking things and staying true to his gut and drafting for need as well as snagging the best player available a year after trading down and taking injured cornerback D.J. Hayden.

Riskiest move: Call it semantics or claim that someone -- either McKenzie or the player’s mom -- was not telling the whole truth as to whether the Raiders presented a respectable offer, but the Raiders allowing left tackle Jared Veldheer to leave and reunite with quarterback Carson Palmer in Arizona was not a good way to begin free agency. In Veldheer, the Raiders had a known commodity. In his wake Oakland had to rebuild the offensive line. Replacing Veldheer was seemingly an unnecessary distraction, and though Donald Penn seems a suitable replacement, left tackle will be a need again soon enough.

Most surprising move: Getting an established, respected and accomplished veteran like two-time Super Bowl-winning defensive end Justin Tuck to buy in early and sign with a rebuilding team in the Raiders. The signing of Tuck, who put pen to paper a day after Austin Howard was signed, gave legitimacy to Oakland’s efforts in free agency and opened the doors for the likes of other vets LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, James Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew to also choose Oakland as their destination ... without Oakland overpaying. They are all on the back ends of their careers, but they should have enough left in the tank.

About face? Early in his tenure, McKenzie spoke of signing “high character” players with little to no baggage. So it was a surprise when he spent the third day of the draft taking players with questionable pasts, be it legal spats or getting kicked out of school or off a team. It reached a crescendo with this week’s signing of oft-troubled receiver Greg Little. But McKenzie believes he has built a strong enough locker room to withstand a wild card or two. Besides, if a guy can contribute and has convinced McKenzie he has changed, he deserves another shot, right?
Last month, with the Oakland Raiders immersed in free agency, we broke out a list of the top five free-agent signings in franchise history, moving up from Jerry Rice to John Matuszak to Rich Gannon to George Blanda to Jim Plunkett.

So in the interest of, ahem, fair play, we figured it only right to look at the flip side of free agency in Silver and Blackdom. It’s not pretty.

Checking in at No. 5 on the bottom five Raiders free-agent signings is right guard Mike Brisiel

Too soon? Perhaps. Because it was not as if Brisiel was terrible; far from it. He was an absolute warrior for Oakland in his two years, fighting through countless injuries. Through the week, he could barely move in the Raiders' locker room, yet there he was on Sunday. He only missed two games in two years.

But he was not terribly effective. Again, not entirely his fault.

You see, Brisiel was the centerpiece of cash-strapped general manager Reggie McKenzie’s first free-agent class, signing a five-year, $20 million contract in 2012 to help with the Raiders’ transition to a zone-blocking scheme with Greg Knapp at offensive coordinator. It was a move made by then-rookie coach Dennis Allen that backfired.

Brisiel, who had been a dependable run-blocker with the Houston Texans, was hampered by an ankle injury that required surgery in the offseason and the Raiders' run game had trouble adjusting to the new scheme as running back Darren McFadden averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry.

Brisiel restructured his contract in 2013 and the Raiders, under new O.C. Greg Olson, started to show more power blocking, which was not exactly Brisiel’s strong suit. But Brisiel never complained. He just went about his business and, in Week 6 at the Kansas City Chiefs, Brisiel was pressed into service at center with Stefen Wisniewski already out with a knee injury and Andre Gurode tweaking a knee in the game.

Brisiel said after the game he had last played center in 2007, “in NFL Europe. Maybe in preseason, but not in an NFL game.”

“Mike Brisiel,” quarterback Terrelle Pryor said at the time, “he could barely walk. But I appreciate him.”

Such was Brisiel’s legacy in Oakland.

The Raiders began rebuilding their O-line in free agency, adding Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe and Austin Howard while re-signing Khalif Barnes and still having Wisniewski, Menelik Watson, Tony Bergstrom, Matt McCants and Lamar Mady on the roster.

The writing was on the wall. While many thought Brisiel might retire, the Raiders instead cut him on Monday.
Fans and media types alike wondered why Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was suffering from what seemed like paralysis by analysis at the onset of free agency.

Why was McKenzie, with close to $65 million in salary-cap room, seemingly sitting out the first day or so of the frenzy, allowing the likes of division rival Denver to swoop in and sign players with aplomb, while his two best young players -- left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston -- walked?

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJared Allen signed a deal with Chicago that could be worth up to $32 million.
It was, the harsher critics suggested, as if McKenzie was fiddling while Silver and Blackdom burned.

But all the while there was a thought that no one wearing silver-and-black-colored glasses wanted to face: What if, no matter how financially enticing an offer, a prime free agent simply did not want to come to Oakland?

Heresy or reality?

The Raiders got a dose of that Wednesday when NFL Network reported that veteran defensive end Jared Allen passed on the largest offer he received -- a $9 million per year bid from the Raiders -- and chose instead to go to the Chicago Bears, which, ironically enough, is where Houston went.

Early in the offseason, I suggested the Raiders re-sign Houston and make a run at Allen to play on the right side, while flipping Houston back to the left, his more natural position. Seems like the two will team up after all ... just in the NFC North.

Allen chose the four-year, $32 million deal offered by the Bears, in part because he was reportedly turned off by the Raiders not having a quarterback in place at the time, though Matt Schaub was acquired shortly thereafter.

Also, McKenzie has been saying this week that Veldheer and Houston simply did not want to return to Oakland. McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle that he struggled with the notion.

Of course, many will say that McKenzie could have simply slapped a franchise tag on either player if he wanted them back that badly or, on the other end of the spectrum, that he low-balled the two.

None of that really matters now, though. Not when McKenzie accomplished what he set out to do by getting high-character, veteran locker room leaders who are still productive such as defensive ends Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, receiver James Jones and left tackle Donald Penn.

Besides, they all did want to be in Oakland.
Richie Incognito as a member of the Oakland Raiders is so, well, last regime. Or have you not noticed the trend and type of player general manager Reggie McKenzie has been signing thus far this offseason?

They are guys not only with championship pedigrees but also locker room leaders. Guys like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and James Jones, and yes, the re-signed Charles Woodson.

Incognito exhibits none of those traits.

Sure, the left guard is a mauler on the offensive line who would have fit in nicely on the old-school Raiders’ island of misfit toys (imagine him and Lyle Alzado going at it in practice), but McKenzie is veering away from those types of players.

Asked at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Monday if he had seen the NFL.com report in which Incognito said he was “100 percent into” the prospect of playing for the Raiders, McKenzie smiled.

“I’ve heard about it,” McKenzie said, per the Bay Area News Group.

Asked what he thought about it, McKenzie smiled and said nothing.

Asked if he was interested in Incognito, McKenzie again smiled and was mute.

From a pure playing standpoint, Incognito does have relationships with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

“I’m a loyal guy,” Incognito told NFL.com, “and I’d love to play for them again. And, of course, the Raiders have that aura.”

But again, that aura is from a different generation. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is.

Because the notion of Incognito -- who may still face league discipline for his role in the bullying episode in Miami involving Jonathan Martin -- joining the Raiders gave pause to even the progeny of Al Davis.

“I’d have to think about that,” Mark Davis told reporters.

He’d probably be wise to check in with recently signed defensive end Antonio Smith, who has a longstanding feud with Incognito going back to their college days in the Big 12, a bad blood grudge that’s included kicks to the head, helmets being ripped off and more-than-salty threats.

Yeah, Incognito would be a great fit for the old Raiders ... just not McKenzie’s Raiders, who have already added offensive linemen Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe and Austin Howard, to go along with center Stefen Wisniewski, the re-signed Khalif Barnes, second-year tackle Menelik Watson, veteran right guard Mike Brisiel, Matt McCants, Lamar Mady and McKenzie's first-ever draft pick, Tony Bergstrom.

As one anonymous Raiders player told me last season when I asked which player, Incognito or Martin, he would rather have as a teammate, “Neither,” was the reply.

Raiders free agency tracker

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
It has been a busy week for the Oakland Raiders, culminating with the organization acquiring that sought after veteran quarterback in two-time Pro Bowler Matt Schaub on Friday. The Raiders also re-signed veteran free safety Charles Woodson and picked up a left tackle in Donald Penn as well as a veteran receiver in James Jones.

Here is the Raiders’ updated free agency tracker:

Raiders free agents

LT Jared Veldheer – signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals on March 11.

DE Lamarr Houston – signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Chicago Bears on March 11.

RB Rashad Jennings – signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the New York Giants on March 12.

CB Tracy Porter – signed with Washington on March 13.

RB Darren McFadden – signed a one-year, $4 million deal to return to the Raiders, with $100,000 guaranteed and $2.25 million in incentives on March 15.

FS Charles Woodson – signed a one-year contract to return to Raiders on March 21.

DT Vance Walkersigned three-year contract with Kansas City Chiefs worth max of $13.75 million, guaranteed at least $3.75 million on March 14.

DT Pat Sims – linked to Tennessee Titans.

CB Mike Jenkins – signed one-year contract worth up to $2 million with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 20.

DT Daniel Muir

CB Phillip Adams

S Usama Youngsigned a two-year contract to return to Raiders on March 19.

OT Tony Pashos

WR Jacoby Fordlinked to New York Jets.

DE Jason Hunter

C/G Andre Gurode

TE Jeron Mastrud


Who’s new?

OT Rodger Saffold (St. Louis Rams) – agreed to five-year, $42,5 million deal, with $21 million guaranteed, with Raiders on March 11. Deal voided with Oakland’s concerns over health of Saffold’s shoulder the next day, he re-signed with Rams immediately.

RT Austin Howard (New York Jets) – signed five-year, $30 million deal, with $15 million in guarantees, with Raiders on March 12.

DE Justin Tuck (New York Giants) – signed two-year, $11 million deal with Raiders on March 13.

LB LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh Steelers) – signed two-year contract worth up to $12 million with Raiders on March 13.

CB Tarell Brown (San Francisco 49ers) – signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Raiders on March 14.

DE Antonio Smith (Houston Texans) –signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Raiders on March 14.

WR James Jones (Green Bay Packers) – signed a three-year, $11.3 million deal with Raiders on March 17.

OL Kevin Boothe (New York Giants) – signed a two-year contract with Raiders on March 17.

LT Donald Penn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – signed a two-year, $9.6 million deal, with $4.2 million guaranteed, with Raiders on March 19.

QB Matt Schaub (Houston Texans) – acquired in a trade for a sixth-round selection in 2014 NFL draft on March 21.

Who has visited or will be visiting…reportedly?

DT Jason Hatcher (Dallas Cowboys) – signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington.

DE Henry Melton (Chicago Bears) – signed with Dallas Cowboys.

DB Terrell Thomas (New York Giants)

RB Andre Brown (New York Giants)

LB Dane Fletcher (New England Patriots) – signed a one-year, $2 million contract with Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

LB Rob Jackson (Washington)