This Raiders offensive line could use all the help it can get these days. But barring any unforeseen — and unexpected — trades, their best hope lies in the health and improvement of the players they have in-house.
This week one major cog in that offensive line is eligible to return. Veteran Richie Incognito, who hasn’t played at all this season with a calf injury, was placed on short-term injured reserve prior to the third week of the season. His three-week minimum is up, but that is not going to happen at this time.
“He’s getting better,” Head coach Jon Gruden said of Incognito’s status. “I think to be realistic it’ll probably be the game right after the bye. I think that’s the game that we’ll target and hopefully that’s the case.”
The Raiders have their bye in week eight, which would have Incognito back for their week nine game against the New York Giants should Gruden’s target timeline hold up.
There absolutely no question the Raiders’ offensive line has been their Achilles Heel this season. Even at 38, Incognito would be a significant upgrade to the group that has struggled to keep defenders out of the backfield and get a push in the run game. Gruden sees more than just on-field performance as a bonus to having Incognito in the lineup.
“He’s not only a really good player, he’s a great leader, a great communicator,” Gruden said of Incognito. “He’s seen stunts and twists. A lot of these guys are really getting their baptism in the National Football League and Alex Leatherwood got a real baptism yesterday (against the Bears) on short notice. So, it’s going to be painful at times.
“We got to play better. We will play better. But Richie is one of the premier guards in football and not only that he’s a guy that was selected captain. Our guys look up to him and he brings a sense of grit and toughness that every team likes. So, hopefully, we will get him back soon and, in the meantime, it’ll be a great opportunity for [John] Simpson, a great opportunity for Leatherwood to continue to improve their skills.”
This timeline means the Raiders have two more games without Incognito. They travel to Denver next week and then face the Eagles at home. That should also offer a good sample size to see whether Simpson or Leatherwood would get the start at right guard once Incognito is back.