NAPA – The Raiders invested heavily in their offensive line, especially on the interior. They gave center Rodney Hudson $44.5 million over five years just over a year ago. They gave guard Kelechi Osemele $58.5 million over a similar duration a few months back. They used a third-round pick on Gabe Jackson, an instant-impact starter from Mississippi State.
The Raiders didn’t waste funds. They wanted strength up the middle and got it from this trio, which received high praise from veteran offensive line coach Mike Tice.
"I’ve been blessed to coach a lot of good football players, including a lot of good linemen at Minnesota and Chicago and Jacksonville. Those three guys, as a trio, could be as good as any I’ve ever worked with on the inside," Tice said. "I’m really excited to coach those guys.”
Osemele is the latest addition to a group three years in the making, a versatile lineman known for power and a nasty streak. Jackson is an ox, someone who rarely makes mistakes.
In Tice’s opinion, interior success begins in the middle. Hudson is a cerebral sort with athleticism that allows blocking schemers to get creative.
“It all starts with Rodney. He’s the leader of the group,” Tice said. “He’s the guy who makes sure they’re all singing from the same sheet of music. If they aren’t, then guys don’t understand our schemes and we have problems. It starts with Rodney. KO is learning the system. Gabe has been in the system for a year. We’re coming together well.”
Jackson’s flexibility keyed the effort. Osemele is one of the NFL’s best left guards, and the Raiders wanted Jackson to move from the only position he’s played over to the right side. Jackson took the move in stride, and has fit in well.
“He didn’t pout, so that was awesome,” Tice said. “He accepted the role and, honestly, he looks like a natural on the right side. He is having a tremendous camp.”
Second-year pro Jon Feliciano will be the swing interior lineman, the first guy off the bench at center and guard. He’s taken plenty of reps at both spots, and has made strides over a year ago.
“We’re really excited about what Jon did in the offseason,” Tice said. “He has taken a big step for us and looked good in the first padded practices. …He’s starting to understand coverage and make our calls and protections. We’re very comfortable with him being our sixth guy.
"I'll be honest, it wasn’t that way at the end of last season. He was on the ground too much. We’re excited about him transforming his body. He got married and he has matured. We’re really happy with where Jon’s at.”