Raiders fans know Austin Howard primarily as a guard, but the man’s played a ton of right tackle. He protected that flank over 32 stars for the New York Jets before signing with Oakland.
He was pretty good at that spot and signed a five-year, $30 million contract, with half that sum paid in the first two years. That didn’t stop the Raiders from moving Howard inside for a year-long experiment that ended when head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive line coach Mike Tice got hired.
“It’s been an adjustment,” Howard said, “but I feel like we have the best coaching staff out there to all get as good as we need to be on the offensive line. “
Howard doesn’t have much time to get right. Presumptive starter Menelik Watson was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday with a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon, leaving Howard to take over a week-and-a-half prior to opening day.
This shouldn’t be a major switch. Howard has experience at right tackle in his career and this preseason, where he’s seen significant snaps with the second unit. He’ll need to be ready because, one weak link can hinder an offensive line.
“He’s a pro,” Del Rio said. “This guy’s gotten better I feel like throughout camp so he’ll be called on for obviously a much bigger role. That might not have been (the case) if Menelik stayed healthy. That’s part of why you have the depth and competition. We’ll count on him to play a big role for us.”
That started on Sunday against Arizona, when Watson went down six snaps into the preseason game. Howard played with the first and second unit that day, and has stepped into the starting spot during this week’s work.
It’s a role Howard is comfortable with given his experience, and it’s something expected considering how much he’s getting paid.
“Fortunately (starting is) something I feel like I was able to do,” Howard said after Sunday’s contest. “Going on six years now, you kind of have to be used to going out there whenever you can be used. It felt good, obviously I didn’t have a 100-percent perfect game, but I’ll watch the film, make my corrections and take it one day at a time.”
The Raiders have depth along the offensive line. Howard will be the primary option to replace Watson, though veteran Khalif Barnes has played extensively at right tackle and Matt McCants has a few starts there as well. Howard feels he’ll fit in fine with the starting five despite a lack of snaps playing in that group.
“I like the scheme, and I feel like we can have a lot of success up front,” Howard said. “We need to handle our business up there to make this offense go.”