Raiders LT Penn doesn't sugarcoat it: Return to Tampa Bay 'very huge'

Raiders LT Penn doesn't sugarcoat it: Return to Tampa Bay 'very huge'

TAMPA, Fla. – NFL players are a transient bunch, often switching teams a few times in free agency. That’s why there’s a Raiders homecoming story available almost every week.

Kelechi Olsemele was emotional about playing at Baltimore. Sean Smith faced an old team when the Chiefs came to Oakland. Reggie Nelson played the team that drafted him and later traded him in Jacksonville last game.

Donald Penn’s up this week, though the circumstances are a bit different.

He wanted to remain in Tampa Bay and play out a big contract. The Buccaneers cut him during the 2014 offseason, after eight years of service. He started his last 108 games in Tampa, and went to a Pro Bowl in that span.

Tampa Bay imported free agent Anthony Collins, which made Penn expendable. Tampa Bay made a business move. It was the wrong one.

Collins played one disappointing season and was cut the next year. Donovan Smith has started each game this year and last, but hasn’t been productive.

Penn has meanwhile experienced a career renaissance in Oakland, and is playing quality football at 33 years old. He’s happy being closer to his L.A. home and with a surging Raiders squad. Doing better is the best revenge, but Penn still wants to show well in his return to Tampa Bay. That comes Sunday, when the Raiders complete their Florida road with a contest at Raymond James Stadium.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s very huge,” Penn said Thursday. “You know me, I’m a straight forward guy. That’s definitely in my mind. I mean that’s something I’m never going to forget, when they released me.”

Penn’s playing as well as ever this season. He hasn’t allowed a sack, according to Pro Football Focus statistics, and has given up just one quarterback hit and 12 pressures through seven games. He even slid over to right tackle in a season-opening emergency and fared well in that spot.

“He wants to protect me more than anything,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He gets mad even if his guy, his finger touches my jersey and the balls out. So, when you got guys that it means that much to them to do their job and it means that much to them that it makes them sick, not only to have a sack but for those guys to even touch you, you know you have the right person protecting you.”

Penn has been protecting Carr since he turned pro in 2014, and has kept the young quarterback largely clean over the pass three years. It’s a luxury some quarterbacks don’t have – just ask Derek’s brother David about the importance of pass protection – and Carr would like to keep it that way.

Carr wants five more years out of Penn, who has said he’d seriously consider retirement when his contract expires after next season.

His level of play may change things. Maybe, maybe not.

“Derek stays in my ear about (playing five more),” said Penn, halfway through his 11th season. “After next year, we’ll sit and see how things go. Thirteen has always has been a number in my head since I was younger. When I was younger, I was thinking 13 NBA years. It switched over to NFL years quick. We’ll have to readdress that, but I have a lot more football in me. I could probably play five or six more years if I want to, but the thing is do I want to?

“When am I going to call it quits? My body has been great. Hopefully it stays great, but I have three kids. I want to make sure I’m still able to do things with them and be able to do stuff and enjoy that. Right now with the way it's going, especially with us winning, it feels good. It feels fine, but you never know. I might still be out here a little longer.”

Penn has learned to be efficient in training, to avoid unnecessary taxation on a body that doesn’t rebound like it used to.

Experience, technical mastery and football smarts have mitigated any agility loss, and Penn’s still going strong despite the fact Tampa Bay let him go.

And, for the first time in 11 tries, Penn has started 5-2. He has only had three winning seasons and one playoff appearance, which makes 2016 more meaningful.

“Especially at this point in my career, I really do appreciate it a lot,” Penn said. “It really means a lot because, like I said, I’m more seasoned. I am going to play, and I want to win now. I’m not trying to win later. The good thing is these young group of kids we have. Some kids come in here and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get it eventually.’ These young kids on this team, they want it now, and I love that because they’re on the same page as me because I want it now. The effort that we’re putting out on the field, on the practice field, it’s showing. We just have to keep that up.”

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.