ALAMEDA – Donald Penn has been a right tackle for a week now, longer than any other point in his professional career.
The two-time Pro Bowler has anchored the left side for a successful career, but was asked to make the position switch after being activated off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 14.
That came after restructuring his contract, and Penn went along with the switch when he could’ve been militant about it. The Raiders prefer to leave first-round pick Kolton Miller on the left side, to continue developing the young talent at his preferred spot.
That left Penn to make the switch, as he did in the 2016 regular-season opener while playing the only 24 snaps at right tackle in his NFL career.
Going from left to right isn’t easy, but Penn has fared well in the early going.
“He has had a good week,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He really looked very natural from the first day we put him out there. That was extremely encouraging because he hasn’t played that position much throughout his career. I think we still have to get him in shape. He’s working after practice and the conditioning staff has done a good job with that.”
Penn hasn’t played a game since the switch, meaning it remains in the experimental stage and that could continue into the early regular season. His debut will come on Friday against Green Bay, when he’ll get acclimated to the position at full speed.
Penn’s working to learn new footwork and free himself from instincts and routines built over a career on the left side. He’s also working back into shape following Dec. 2017 Lisfranc foot surgery. That’s a tough two-step, but Penn has a few weeks to show he can play right tackle when the games count.
“It’s about getting game ready,” Olson said. “It’s been a long time since Donald has played in a game, and it’s been a long time since he has gone through full practice. He is having to play himself into shape. … As far as playing the position, he has looked very comfortable there.”
Penn’s trying to help Miller gain comfort playing at the professional level. He didn’t play last week’s preseason game at the L.A. Rams – most offensive starters sat – and has little experience to rely upon. Enter Penn, who has been helped Miller along the way, willingly passing on tricks of the trade.
“It’s a credit to Donald Penn for how he has approached this chance,” Olson said. “We talked with him about it, and has been on board with it since the move was made. It says a lot about the man and the player.”