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Donald Penn grew up a Raiders fan. The Los Angeles native spent many Sunday afternoons in L.A. Coliseum parking lots with his father and his friends, tossing pigskin prior to the main event.
“Going to the games, sitting in the nosebleed sections with my dad was always fun,” the veteran left tackle said. “We rooted for the Raiders. We’d be out there cooking and the adults would be drinking beer before the game. It was something I looked forward to as a kid. … Now I’m going to be able to help them return back to excellence.”
Penn will get that chance after signing a two-year contract with the Raiders this offseason. While the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer will play closer to family and don a jersey he has long cheered for, nostalgia alone didn’t bind this union.
The Raiders offered Penn a chance to rebound after the worst season of his professional career, and they were the only interested team that still considered him a left tackle.
That pushed the Raiders ahead of Washington for Penn’s services, a real coup for Reggie McKenzie after losing incumbent Jared Veldheer in free agency.
It offered a Penn a soft landing following a harsh cut. The Buccaneers didn’t communicate with Penn before signing Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins to play his position, a transaction completed shortly before the Pro Bowler received a pink slip.
“Getting released made me take a step back,” Penn said. “I was in Tampa for eight years. I played a lot of football and I never got released except from the practice squad. It was a shocker, but it’s in the past now. I’m looking forward to the future. I’m happy to be a Raider. It’s fuel and motivation going into next season. It’s always going to be in the back of my head for the rest of my career.”
Penn’s perceived slight is one of many that fuel the new veteran leaders, spurning hard work and mentorship of a young, developing foundation. Penn has put tremendous effort into bonding with his linemates, especially young tackles Menelik Watson and Matt McCants.
The offensive front has gotten bigger, stronger and far deeper with key offseason additions. Penn believes the starting five will truly make this offense go.
“I know we’re going to dictate tempo,” Penn said. “We’re going to be a physical offensive line. We’re going to play like the old Raiders, but we’re going to play smart. We’re going to run the ball and run and run until they stop us, and that’s going to be hard. We’re going to play physical. We’re not going to take any guff. We’re going to dictate the tempo.”
Penn will be a huge part of that effort, as a run blocker and the most important pass protector. Even entering his ninth season, the Raiders believe he can do that. They see surprising agility from a player standing 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, and that starts at the bottom.
“Donald has great feet,” Raiders head 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 ‘Ollie’ [offensive coordinator Greg 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.”