Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
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THE REBUTTAL: Donald Penn explains why Oakland has the top offense
What is the biggest challenge you faced as an undrafted free agent trying to make an NFL roster?
DP: "It's hard. It wasn't an easy journey. It's tough because, as an undrafted free agent, you don't get as many reps as guys who have been drafted. You're really at the bottom of the totem pole, so when you do get your reps, you have to make them count. ... You have to make the most out of your opportunities when you get them."
What are the traits needed to be an elite offensive tackle in the NFL?
DP: "You have to have longevity and consistency ... You have to be out there and be consistent. When you look at my film, you know what you're going to get every game. You're going to get a consistent left tackle that's going to play a consistent game. I might not be perfect, but out of 85 plays, you're going to get 80 great plays from Donald Penn."
If you're coaching a young guy, what are the tools that they must have to be a solid player in the league?
DP: "It has a little to do with everything -- footwork, hand placement and technique. ... You have to have a game plan. You have to know how you want to attack guys. For instance, when I played against DeMarcus Ware, I attacked him different than I attacked Von Miller because they are two different players. ... When I got out of sorts, I had to go back to my game plan, my footwork, my hand placement. You have to get back to the fundamentals."
What's the biggest challenge facing a number of elite pass rushers in the AFC West?
DP: "We have Derek Carr slinging the ball. We have more than one running back running the ball and a variety of threats on the outside. ... We're rolling right now. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Cowboys and their offensive line. I watch Tyron Smith a lot because he plays really well. I'm close friends with Ezekiel Elliott and we've talked trash all season about which team has the best offensive line. It's looking like we're No.1 and No. 2. We just need to see which team finishes the strongest."
I appreciated the chance to catch up with Penn at NFL Media headquarters after initially meeting him on Utah State's campus 12 years ago on a school visit. The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder has carved out a nice career after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He not only developed into a much better player than I expected, but he became a Pro Bowl-caliber performer during the prime of his career. During our conversation, I was impressed with his ability to articulate his individual strengths and weaknesses while also acknowledging how he masks his deficiencies through technique and diligent preparation.
From a scouting standpoint, I frequently use Penn as an example of how a player with some limitations can make it in the league. Although I placed a late-round/priority-free-agent grade on him prior to the draft, I probably should've investigated his football character a little more to get a better sense of his willingness to do whatever it takes to make the squad.
Overall, I thought Penn's takes were insightful, particularly his view on the Raiders' offense ranking ahead of the Cowboys' offense. While I agree the Raiders' QB1 and skill players might hold a slight edge over "America's Team," the Cowboys' offensive line features a special collection of players with three first-round picks and their collective dominance is hard to match. Considering how well the unit moves defenders off the ball and keeps the QB1 upright, it is hard to imagine any offense ranking above the Cowboys.