Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer 23d

Plug-and-Play-apalooza: How the Raiders' O-line has hung together through injuries

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Lincoln Kennedy has never seen anything like it.

Mind you, Kennedy was a No. 9 overall draft pick out of Washington who spent 11 years in the NFL, went to three Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro and played in a Super Bowl.

But the way the Las Vegas Raiders' offensive line has not only been beset by injury but actually responded and played well through the first two games? Yeah, this was something new for Kennedy, who spent eight years anchoring the Raiders' offensive line at right tackle from 1996 through 2003.

"Never," said Kennedy, who is now on the Raiders' radio broadcast. "And the fact that they are 2-0 is a testament to the wherewithal of the line, and what [O-line coach] Tom Cable has been able to do."

Consider: A year after getting all of three snaps total out of their projected -- and very expensive -- line of left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard Richie Incognito, center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Trent Brown, Las Vegas reshuffled the deck. Hudson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals, Jackson to the Seattle Seahawks and Brown to the New England Patriots.

The new projected line had Miller, in his fourth season, and Incognito, who is 38 and coming off an Achilles' injury, in their regular spots, with Andre James, an undrafted converted center in his third season, Denzelle Good -- who played both right tackle and left guard last season -- at right guard and first-round draft pick Alex Leatherwood at right tackle.

How's it looked?

Through two games, Incognito, who suffered a right calf injury in a joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 19, has yet to practice, let alone play.

Good suffered a season ending ACL injury to his left knee in the season-opening overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens.

And Leatherwood sat out the second half of Sunday's victory at the Pittsburgh Steelers with a back issue (he has been a full go in practice this week).

Introducing, then, John Simpson, a fourth-round draft pick in 2020 who played seven games as a rookie, at left guard, Jermaine Eluemunor, who was signed on Sept. 2, at right guard and Brandon Parker, a third-round pick in 2018 who actually started 12 games as a rookie, at right tackle.

It's a Plug-and-Play-apalooza!

"I'll look in the huddle and I'll be like, 'Wow, so and so is hurt. Oh, you're in?'" said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. "You're just so in the mode of the blitzes, the coverages, to get in the right play. It's so next-man-up. It's so cliché in football, but it's so true. ... You don't want it to, but it's happened here so much that I've seen so many faces in here that it's actually helped me where I still have to find a way to execute.

"I still have to find a way to play at a high level regardless of what's going on. Like I told you, I don't want or need a perfect situation. I just want guys that love football and that will compete with me. And that's definitely something that we have ... you look everywhere and we've got guys that can play football. So, it may be a different style, but we feel good about those guys."

As far as the passing game goes, it's been seamless. Or did you miss that Carr is leading the NFL with 817 passing yards?

Running the ball, though, has been a whole different kettle of fish as the O-line has looked like, well, fish out of water. The Raiders, despite having the No. 1 total offense in the NFL, are only 30th in the run game.

Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs being slowed with a training camp case of turf toe was one thing, but missing the Steelers game -- when Las Vegas had only 31 yards on the ground before their final, game-killing drive -- with an ankle injury that has also put his availability for Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS) in doubt is worrisome.

"Well, we're hanging in there," said Raiders coach Jon Gruden. "Tom's done an excellent job and so has Cam Clemmons, our assistant line coach. When Tom's up here working, trying to put the game plan together, Cam is introducing himself to Jackson Barton or we got Eluemunor here. Here's a new guy, we got [Jordan] Simmons coming in here. It's a combination of a lot of people throughout the day helping these young guys learn our system because it is a lot.

"Both Tom and Cam deserve a lot of credit. So does Tim Berbenich, he's our new running back coach. We lost Jalen Richard. We lost our feature back [Jacobs]. But other teams are dealing with adversity. We have to adapt the best we can."

And as Kennedy, who will never shake being an offensive lineman, sees it, as impressive as the early-season job has been, there is always room for improvement.

Especially on the interior in the run game.

"John Simpson has progressed more than I would have given him credit for, initially," Kennedy said. "Last year, he got pushed around and I thought he needed a little more junk in the truck, if you get my meaning, and settle down. He and Eluemunor need to work on their pad level so they don't get pushed into the backfield in the run game.

"The interior part of the line for the Raiders is a work in progress."

And Leatherwood, who had a false start, a holding penalty and gave up a sack in Pittsburgh in one half and is playing Kennedy's old position?

"I didn't appreciate how they left him out on an island [against T.J. Watt]," Kennedy said. "Especially in the first quarter. But they recognized it and adjusted."

It's a theme.

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