The Oakland Raiders made a lot of changes this offseason, as 10 of their 22 starters are players added to the team this year. But as important as the influx of talent has been, perhaps the biggest but most unsung upgrades of the offseason came in the form of offensive line coach Mike Tice and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
In nearly every aspect of the game, the Raiders have had a very up-and-down season. Other than line play, that is.
The Raiders may have added the best offensive line coach in the National Football League. While Tice wasn’t so hot as a head coach, his credentials as an offensive line coach are stellar. So far his presence has paid off huge for the Raiders, who are one of the best pass blocking teams in the NFL.
Tice has done an excellent job of getting the most out of his players. He didn’t have to do a whole lot with Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson, those three guys are just danged good. But at right guard and right tackle, the Raiders had huge questions. If I told you before the season that J’Marcus Webb and Austin Howard would man those positions, you’d think the Raiders were doomed.
Instead, Tice took a piece off of the scrap heap in Webb and turned him into an above-average guard. He also rehabilitated the career of Austin Howard, who had one of his worst seasons after getting moved to right guard last season.
The performance of the offensive line has been a major reason why Derek Carr was able to make the strides he has this season. The Raiders not only added weapons for Carr to target, they are also giving him a lot more time to utilize those weapons.
Meanwhile, Jethro Franklin has the defensive line humming like a well-oiled machine. It wasn’t always that way, as the unit struggled a bit early in the season, but throughout the year they have steadily moved forward and gotten better. Under Franklin, the Raiders have been very good against the run. The pass rush has been a work in progress, but now it’s finally blossoming into a work of art.
But perhaps the best thing that Franklin has done is work with young players like Denico Autry and Mario Edwards, Jr. The Raiders have watched with delight throughout this season as these two young players have grown into important pieces on the defensive line.
Autry, a former undrafted free agent, spent last season on the practice squad. Edwards was seen by many as a reach for the Raiders in the second round. Under Franklin, Autry looks like a very solid player and Edwards looks like he could be a star. Both have steadily improved all year long and are now playing major roles on defense, including helping Khalil Mack feast while they collapse the pocket.
Getting skill players like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree was an incredibly important upgrade to this team. But getting two line coaches who know how to get the most out of their players in the trenches might be the key to why this Raiders team looks so much better than it has in recent years.