Raiders' backup center fills a hole in the line

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 - 8:24 am

NAPA – Carson Palmer said he didn't really notice Alex Parsons in the Raiders' huddle Friday night at Arizona. He meant it in the nicest way possible.

Parsons, who has seemingly emerged as the Raiders' backup center, spent the last two seasons toiling in the relative anonymity of the practice squad. Last year, those players didn't travel with the rest of the team, so Parsons was nowhere to be found on the sidelines during road games.

With starting center Stefen Wisniewski sidelined this offseason for stretches of organized team activities and training camp, though, Parsons has worked with the first-team offense, including during the first half of the Raiders' 31-27 preseason loss to the Cardinals.

The first-teamers had mixed results – they couldn't punch it in on three plays from the 1-yard line, but they did keep the quarterback on his feet, which had Palmer saying Tuesday that the line under Parsons' direction "didn't skip a beat with protection calls."

"When you're in the huddle with a guy and you notice that he's a rookie, that he's a guy that hasn't been in the huddle a bunch, that's concerning," Palmer said. "And it's not that way at all with Alex. He's been on top of everything."

Parsons, who started his last two seasons at USC at right guard, was among the final cuts in training camp the past two years. He reported to offseason workouts this year about 20 pounds lighter, feeling less sluggish and more suited to the changing Raiders' offense.

The zone-blocking scheme introduced by offensive coordinator Greg Knapp requires more sideline-to-sideline movement, so coming in at a slimmed-down 310 pounds seemed smart to Parsons.

"I figured they weren't going to want a 330-pound center or inside guy," said Parsons, who is officially listed at 316 pounds. "I felt like I needed to get myself into better shape. I was just in a bad place after last season."

That extended beyond conditioning, said Parsons, who acknowledged his two seasons on the practice squad were difficult.

"It's tough to see your team out there and you practice with them," Parsons said. "It's one of those things where you look at your team on TV and wish you were out there. You just have to make the best of your experience now."

Asked to assess Parsons' job of filling in for Wisniewski, coach Dennis Allen said Parsons has "done well. As a matter of fact, he was competing the whole time, and we were impressed with what we've seen out of him."

Parsons said that at practices he and Wisniewski talk after most series and that "he'll come up to me and ask me what happened and what I saw and what he saw, and we'll discuss what happened."

That may be nearly as beneficial for Wisniewski as it is for Parsons.

Wisniewski, who in his second NFL season is moving from guard following the offseason departure of Samson Satele, was already playing catch-up with the offense after missing team activities and minicamp while recovering from a shoulder procedure to address a torn labrum suffered last year.

Wisniewski practiced for the first two weeks of training camp but left the preseason opener after the Raiders' first offensive series with a calf injury and hasn't seen the field since.

"It's kind of a day-to-day thing," Wisniewski told the Associated Press. "I don't want to push it too hard, especially because we're in the preseason. I wouldn't expect it to be too much longer."

Allen reiterated Tuesday that Wisniewski needs the reps.

"It's football, and you don't just show up and play, so every day he's not out here he's a little bit farther behind," Allen said. "He's been keeping up mentally as far as taking the mental reps and in the meetings, but it's hard to replace those physical reps you get here and in games."

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