Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer 57d

Richie Incognito's leadership role with Las Vegas Raiders' revamped O-line

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Reasons? Yeah, Richie Incognito has a few reasons as to why he wants to return to play left guard for the Las Vegas Raiders at age 38, a year after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2.

And they are exactly what you would imagine.

"The injury was frustrating, but I knew from the start I was coming back," Incognito said after the Raiders' first week of OTAs. "Once I went and had surgery and it wasn't as major as we thought, I knew I was just going to grind and rehab and come back stronger. I had surgery in November and since November I've been locked in the gym just running, conditioning, lifting, and yeah, it's one of those things where I didn't want to go out on an injury.

"I've had such a long career and I wanted come back and kick ass and play another couple years with the Raiders."

Makes sense.

But keep this in mind -- sure, the oft-troubled Incognito has kept his nose clean since the Raiders took a chance on him by coaxing him out of a one-year retirement in the spring of 2019. But he has also missed a ton of time. Incognito has played in 14 of the Raiders' 32 games the past two seasons.

And now, not only are the Raiders counting on Incognito to be available, Las Vegas also needs the 14-season veteran to be a calming influence on a reshuffled offensive line. A unit that saw its Pro Bowl center (Rodney Hudson), right guard (Gabe Jackson) and right tackle (Trent Brown) traded this offseason.

The projected and expensive O-line of left tackle Kolton Miller, Incognito, Hudson, Jackson and Brown played all of three snaps together last season.

Now, the Raiders are looking at a potential line of Miller and Incognito on the left side, Andre James at center, Denzelle Good -- who replaced Incognito on the left side last season -- at right guard, and first-round draft pick Alex Leatherwood at right tackle.

Enter Incognito the Wise.

"It's great to be able to have been here for a couple years and be established and be a leader for these young guys," he said. "It's great because we have some really good experience in the room.

"But it's my job to keep those guys going, keep them hungry, keep them humble and when we get out on Sunday, just play as one and go out there and really get after people. I think [offensive line coach Tom] Cable wants a very physical offensive line, and that's where I come in. I set the tempo every day in practice. I bring it every day and get out in the games and I'm out there mixing it up and putting people on their head, and that energy is contagious."

Yeah, even with his less-than-pristine past. Or maybe, in part, because of it.

But as mentioned earlier, Incognito, a third-round pick of the Rams in 2005, has been nothing but a positive influence on the younger Raiders.

"I vote for Richie Incognito to be captain every year I've been in the league," third-year defensive end Clelin FerrellĀ said. "My first two years in the league I voted him to be a captain both times, because I feel like a lot of things can get misconstrued about Richie.

"Especially being [such a veteran], a lot of guys would complain. Man, he comes out to practice all the time, doesn't take days off unless coach makes him take days off ... he's really going to be that vocal leader this year, for sure, and kind of that stone hinge that everybody's like, 'OK, they got a dog on them.'"

Incognito came to the Raiders on a one-year, "prove-it" deal worth $1.03 million in 2019, was rewarded with a two-year, $12.7 million extension with $5 million guaranteed but was released this past March 9. Fifteen days later, he was re-signed, to a one-year, $2.12 million contract, with $1.1 million guaranteed.

A year ago, OTAs were wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And after the Raiders, along with every other in the NFL, announced earlier this spring they were going to sit out the voluntary portion of the offseason program, 83 of the 89 players on the Raiders' 90-man roster were practicing last Wednesday.

"It's a competitive advantage for us to be here working right now," Incognito said. "We're a young team, we're learning a new defense. Offense, we're trying to sharpen our tools to be more productive, put up more points, put more pressure on teams, and it's just great. It's great for team building, great to be around the guys.

"The offseason kind of started off with the NFLPA and their agenda and we released a statement, but a couple days later we came together, and we were like, listen, other teams are working, we are at a competitive disadvantage if we're not working. Let's get our asses back there and get to work."

How's that for a reason?

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