When the Oakland Raiders drafted Khalil Mack with the No. 5 pick in the NFL Draft, it was expected that he would be a starter when the 2014 season began. But how many people expected the Raiders’ next two draft choices to start against the New York Jets in Week 1?
The Raiders made three changes to their starting offense as they prepare to travel across the country and face Rex Ryan’s defense. The big news: rookie quarterback Derek Carr winning the starting job over veteran Matt Schaub. However, the other moves were not insignificant. Khalif Barnes was moved from starting left guard to starting right tackle and rookie Gabe Jackson was bumped up to starting left guard.
When it comes to importance of positions on the offense, quarterback sits at the top with the offensive line not far behind. Making this many changes this close to the start of the season can often mean bad things for a team. For the Raiders, the moves have been prompted by rookies performing well enough to unseat veterans.
According to Dennis Allen, Carr is a guy who is “mature beyond his years at quarterback”. He has impressed coaches from the very first rookie camp. His development culminated in an impressive showing in the Raiders’ final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, when he completed 11-of-13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Even though Carr played mostly against backups, he showed enough arm talent and poise to move ahead of Schaub.
In 2013, the Raiders had two of the worst guards in the entire NFL with Lucas Nix and Mike Brisiel. In order to address the position, the team signed Austin Howard to play at right guard and moved Khalif Barnes to left guard, with Menelik Watson becoming a reserve.
Jackson was drafted for the future. Much like at quarterback, the future at guard is now. Jackson has impressed in camp and all preseason, forcing the Raiders coaching staff to make a move.
Starting rookies before they’re ready is never a good thing. In the case of the Raiders, Allen and his staff believe these three guys have earned their promotions by performing well in camp and the preseason. Now it’s time to see if they can continue to grow as the regular season gets underway.