The Raiders went with an extra tackle several times in Friday’s exhibition against the Detroit Lions. Whether it was a specific preseason game plan (unlikely) or an experiment to see if they can survive without a true blocking tight end (ding! ding! ding!), the Raiders moved versatile veteran Khalif Barnes from starting left guard to the outside as an extra tackle (and an eligible receiver), bringing rookie Gabe Jackson into the interior line.
The third-round pick from Mississippi State has been impressive playing on the second unit, and his play with the starting group earned similar reviews.
“I thought he played exceptionally well. I think he’s a guy that continues to get better every day,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think he’s beginning to be able to adjust to the different things that defenses are giving him. He’s a smart player and he’s got good instincts, both in the run game and the pass game, so I saw big improvement in Gabe Jackson this week and I think that’s something that’s going to benefit us as we move on down the road.”
Jackson played 58 snaps between the first and second units, 18 run blocking and 40 protecting the passer. Over the course of Friday’s game, the Raiders did good work running between the left guard and center. According to Pro Football Focus, backs had five carries for 28 yards through that gap.
“The offensive line got good push up front, creating lanes from center to guard and on out to the tackle,” Jackson said. “We’re going to run with power. That’s how I like it.”
Jackson has a reputation as a steamroller in the run game, with power and strength to pave the way inside. Many expect Jackson to start at left guard during the regular season, but the Raiders have gone with a veteran in Barnes who has fared well himself.
“I think Gabe has performed very well, but I’m real pleased with what I’ve seen out of Khalif Barnes, too,” Allen said. “I think when you look at – and I’ve said this before – when you look at the depth on our offensive line, I like the depth of where we’re at on the offensive line.”
Jackson isn’t concerned about depth chart placement at this point. He’s focused on gaining experience, and going up against Detroit and the likes of defensive right tackle CJ Mosley provided good work for the young player.
“It was a good going up against elite players,” Jackson said. “It was a experience you can learn from. It’ll help gauge your progress. The goal is to get better, and playing in a game like this will help you do that.”