There aren’t many blockers in the NFL that take up more space than Trent Brown, the Raiders’ 6-foot-8, 380-pound right tackle.
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Remember that climactic scene in “Game of Death,” when Bruce Lee comes across a standing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and stares at him, mouth agape, in wonderment as his head tilts back and his eyes slowly follow the upward trajectory to get the full scope of Kareem’s stature?
That was Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr when he first got a glance at his new right tackle, the massive Trent Brown.
“This guy, he walks in a room and he has to duck in every doorway he walks in,” Carr said, shaking his head. “Usually you see a big guy like that and they’re not as quick, they don’t have that burst. But, man, he has such a burst and he’s a Super Bowl champ.
“That’s pretty impressive.”
Welcome, then, to the doorway to the Raiders’ revamped offensive line, a huge group that is the key to Carr’s breakthrough season and connecting with another high-priced acquisition in receiver Antonio Brown. Because while the 6-foot-8, 380-pound Trent Brown might stand out in a crowd, he is also symbolic of the Raiders’ renewed efforts to protect the quarterback after Derek Carr was sacked a David Carr-like 51 times last season.
Consider their size: LT Kolton Miller (6-8, 325), LG Richie Incognito (6-3, 325), C Rodney Hudson (6-2, 315), RG Gabe Jackson (6-3, 335) and Brown, whose four-year, $66 million free-agent deal made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in league history.
But things rarely go to plan, right?
The Raiders have already had to adjust on the fly, with Incognito being slapped with a two-game suspension by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy and Jackson suffering a left knee injury in a joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 8 that is expected to keep him out until Week 7.
Enter Jonathan Cooper (6-2, 308) in place of Incognito and Jordan Devey (6-6, 320) at right guard for Jackson.
“This offensive line is one of the biggest that I’ve been with,” said Devey, another first-year Raider who spent the previous three seasons with the rival Kansas City Chiefs.
“We’re a large, large group. A lot of big bodies that know how to move well. I feel like our chemistry as an offensive line is really good. We have a lot of different personalities, but what’s fun is no matter where you are, O-linemen, we all have the same mentality because it takes a different type of person to play our position, so we all jell really well and it’s been fun to be around this group.”
Devey owas slotted to be the team’s backup center and swing guard before Jackson went down.
“It’s really the only position on the field where if you mess up, somebody could get hurt,” Devey added. “So, there is that protective instinct that you have and then you have to be a little bit off in the brain to do what we do. It’s physical — every play we’re banging our heads against somebody and so you have to kind of be wired differently.”
Sure, they are the grunts who have to work in the trenches to protect Carr, to give him enough time to deliver the ball downfield to Antonio Brown — a guy used to more than 11 targets a game and acquired for third- and fifth-round draft picks, then given a new $30 million contract.
But they are not mindless grunts. Far from it.
Hudson has long been hailed as being one of the smartest centers in the game.
“His football IQ,” Devey said, “is probably the best I’ve ever been around.”
That IQ has helped make Hudson a two-time Pro Bowler.
“We just got to continue to grow together,” Hudson said of the offensive line. “It takes a lot of work. It’s five guys up there, together. We got to communicate, everywhere we got to just continue to grow together. We got a few new guys, but they’re both experienced in the first group, but it’s about everybody. We are trying to grow the first group, the second group, the third group, we’re all trying to learn and grow together.”
Perhaps growth is no more needed than at left tackle, where Miller struggled mightily as a rookie last season, albeit playing on one leg (he suffered a right injury in Week 4) and with one arm (a sprained right elbow came in Week 9) for most of the season.
Miller added about 15 pounds of muscle this offseason without losing any mobility and is, well, healthy. Even if, as Incognito said, he could use a touch of … something.
“He’s big, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s got the right attitude, he works hard,” Incognito said of Miller. “Hopefully, I can bring a little bit of that nasty edge to him, get him to come out of his shell a little bit.”
While his toughness has never been questioned, Miller shrugged at the notion he wasn’t mean enough.
“It was the series before the half of the Browns game and the injury happened and I went down, and Derek was like, ‘Get up!’ and that was it for me,” Miller said. “I was like, ‘We are going to finish this series out.’ Taped it up and finished the game out.
“There’s been times, there’s been plays, there’s been games, but I think just learning to push through that, it’s really helped me as a player … as a rookie, fourth game in, and that being thrown at you was a big curveball.”
Carr does not need any surprises from his line, which morphed from a power-blocking scheme two years ago into more of a zone-blocking outfit last year under coach Jon Gruden and O-line coach Tom Cable. Rather, Carr needs Miller to protect his backside, his new (for now) guards to solidify the middle and for Brown to play as well as he did for the New England Patriots in their title run last winter, when he pitched sack shutouts against the Los Angeles Chargers and Chiefs in the playoffs.
Oh, and Brown is more than familiar with Denver Broncos sack man Von Miller, having spent time with him this summer at Miller’s Rush camp in Las Vegas.
Indeed, in the AFC West, the premier pass rushers will often line up facing Brown, coming at Carr face-first. That will even happen in London in Week 5, when the Raiders take on a familiar face in the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack.
“I’ve always kind of been gifted athletically, so a lot of things came easy to me and I’ve got long arms, a long first step, and so it was really just putting it all together and the confidence from year one to year two,” Brown said. “That’s what really picked up. I had the confidence to go out there and I didn’t care who was out there in front of me. I was going to try to whoop their ass.”
That confidence, Brown said, came late in his rookie year with the San Francisco 49ers in 2015, as the seventh-round pick settled into a starting role the last two games of the season.
“I went into that offseason with the mindset, ‘You can do this s—, this is easy … let’s go,'” he said. “That’s how I approached my training.”
The mantra worked well enough in New England, which got people wondering how Brown would compare his current quarterback to the guy under center for the Patriots.
“I mean Tom [Brady] is the GOAT,” Brown shrugged. “Derek Carr is Derek Carr. If anybody gets the opportunity to be upright and healthy in this league, you know what I mean, you can make plays, and that’s what we’re trying to do up front.”
Indeed, for the Raiders to have success this season, they need Brown to be the one looking up in awe at Carr … so to speak.