ALAMEDA -– Gabe Jackson has spent his football career left of center. The standout offensive lineman’s signature position is left guard, where he played in high school and well enough at Mississippi State to become a Raiders third-round pick.
He moved right into the starting left guard spot, and became a well-respected interior lineman posthaste. Jackson showed the power, agility and nastiness to be Raiders’ left guard for the foreseeable future.
Then Kelechi Osemele signed on the dotted line, and everything got jumbled up. Osemele’s a versatile sort, but the Raiders wanted him on the interior line. And $58.5 million and elite-level production meant Jackson had to take a few steps right.
He was asked to move to center Rodney Hudson’s opposite side and, despite some technical adjustments, Jackson made the transition with a smile.
“I was open to it,” Jackson said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “Whatever helps our offensive line, whatever helps us win -– I’ll do it. I’m 100-percent with it.”
Playing left guard is second nature after so many years anchoring that spot, and Jackson must get used to new footwork on the other side.
“It’s different,” Jackson said. “Anytime you experience something new, there are going to be some growing pains. It’s different, but it’s fun. I like the new challenge.”
Head coach Jack Del Rio believes the transition is going well, and the line’s alignment, with Donald Penn, Osemele, Hudson, Jackson and either Menelik Watson or Austin Howard, arranged from left to right, respectively, creates the best combination.
He also thinks Jackson’s talents will be well suited for his new spot.
“We feel like he’s got the power that’s really a covet for a right guard, in particular,” Del Rio said. “Both of those guys are really talented. That was the decision we made, to try that way first with Gabe. I’ve seen nothing that would suggest anything other than he’s going to be just fine and we’ll be a much stronger unit with that group that’ll end up being in there and we’ll be stout.”
Osemele is the new face on the offensive line, and Jackson said his style of play fits well with what the Raiders like to do up from.
“He has a nasty streak that I love,” Jackson said. “I watched him on tape, and you could see how good he was and how bad he wanted to win. He’s going to fit in really well here.”
The Raiders starting five and its depth has many ranking the Raiders high among the NFL’s offensive lines. The group is big, physical and should be an intimidating force.
“We all have different personalities but share the same attitude,” Jackson said. “We all want to be the best, and we all want to win. Every day we go out there wanting to win.”
“We hear the hype surrounding the line, but that doesn’t mean much until we go out and play. We’re focused on being the best offensive line out there, and that work starts right now, in OTAs.”