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Raiders lineman Alex Leatherwood made change easy, willingly

It’s nearly impossible to imagine Alex Leatherwood lining up as a defensive back. And short of some unimaginable calamity, the Raiders’ 305-pound rookie offensive lineman never will set foot in the defensive secondary.

It is important to note, though, that if it ever did come to that, Leatherwood would be more than willing to make the switch.

“I’ll be a tight end. I’ll play free safety. It doesn’t matter,” Leatherwood said. “I just want to help the team in any way I can.”

Hence, the quick OK he gave when Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable approached him two weeks ago about the idea of moving from right tackle to right guard.

Measured in distance, the move was all of a couple of feet to his left. But from the public point of view, it came off as a demotion for Leatherwood, who was chosen with the 17th pick in April’s draft with the idea of manning right tackle for the Raiders for the next decade.

A move back to tackle at some point could happen. But the combination of Leatherwood’s rookie struggles at that position and the Raiders’ need to improve the interior of their line raised the necessity of moving him to guard.

Leatherwood saw the move as a chance to help the entire offensive line, which had struggled over the first four games of the season. “We were kind of having some issues in the run game and stuff like that,” he said.

The reasons for the move of Leatherwood to right guard and replacing him with veteran Brandon Parker at right tackle was twofold. It theoretically improved the interior while also loading up the right side with the 6-foot-5-inch Leatherwood and the 6-8, 325-pound Parker to give the Raiders a massive boost in size.

The thought process being, the Raiders would get a lift in pass blocking but also a big push in the run game operating behind Leatherwood and Parker.

Leatherwood, understanding the potential benefits, was more than accommodating. “I felt like I’d be of more use inside, so we can be much better, overall, as a unit and as an offense,” he said.

While the Raiders didn’t get an immediate lift in the new group’s first outing together against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, there was a marked improvement last week against the Denver Broncos.

Leatherwood felt much more comfortable the second time around. “A thousand percent,” Leatherwood said. “It’s like, not as much space and it’s a little slower up in there, so naturally it just comes a little easier. It’s been a lot of fun.”

It helps that Leatherwood has experience at right guard, having played it during his sophomore season at Alabama.

The Raiders got just enough of a push up front to create a dependable run game against the Broncos. That helped create more time for quarterback Derek Carr in the play-action pass game to take a handful of successful deep shots downfield.

It started up front, with the Raiders getting their best effort all season from the offensive line.

For now, the changes will stand. The hope being the reconfigured group will grow and develop together the more they play with one another. It’s a luxury the Raiders have not had this year on the offensive line, which already was replacing three starters from last season and then got dealt a huge blow when starting guards Denzelle Good and Richie Incognito were lost to injuries.

Good was lost for the year in the first half of the season opener, and Incognito hasn’t played a snap all season.

Barring any more injuries — or the return of Incognito at some point — the Raiders figure to roll with this unit indefinitely.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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