Oakland Raiders Offensive Line Looking Deep and Competitive for 2012
Justin Smith – May 9, 2012
Last season the Oakland Raiders offensive line stepped into the realm of relevancy for the first time in a decade. Paving the way for the seventh best rushing attack in the NFL—a figure that would've been far higher had Darren McFadden's feet not failed him (and us) yet again. Allowing only 25 total sacks, the 3rd best figure in the league, the big boys up front did more than hold their own in 2011; they held the line.
Fortunately for Carson Palmer their love was always on time.
Reggie McKenzie has always believed in the old proverb Coach Cable was fond of tossing around: iron sharpens iron. Based on his comments regarding faith, it would seem to suit McKenzie's sensabilities just as well or better anyhow. As such, Reggie was not content to stand static despite the stellar performance of the offensive line last year.
Incumbent center Samson Satele was allowed to walk along with Seth Wand, Chris Morris and Daniel Loper; none of whom will be missed any more than the Big Turk wrapper I just ditched in the garbage can. Oh, we also traded combine superstar Bruce Campbell to the Panthers for Mike Goodson, shoring up our backfield depth after the loss of Michael Bush. That, I think, will actually be good for both teams in the short and long-term.
In their stead, McKenzie signed or drafted many lineman to add more proverbial iron to the fire. His big signing was guard Mike Brisiel from Houston. Brisiel broke his leg last season and so became expendable, but he has no lingering medical concerns, moves well, and has experience playing in the zone blocking scheme being re-instituted in Oakland.
Brisiel also played both sides of the line and some tackle, so his versatility cannot be dismissed; he is likely to start at right guard barring unforseen circumstances. He could be pushed by second-year man Joe Barksdale or the huge Zach Hurd, an under-rated and large bodied young man from Connecticut who has flashed some talent, but has yet to really see an NFL field.
The left guard position is looking a little more pliable with Cooper Carlisle being cut and then re-signing for less money—like getting a discount on an aging water heater—and moving from his usual right side to the left to accomodate Brisiel. Thanks Coop!
Carlisle doesn't have the death grip on the job he's had in the past as he will be 35 this season, and Barksdale showed steady learning and improvement over the course of last season—despite seeing little game action—and has the size/speed combination to slide inside and do some damage.
It will be a great competition. Carlisle is another lineman I feel doesn't get his just due, but he is getting old by football standards and he has been slowing down of late. His experience in the ZBS cannot be overlooked though, and that gives him the early edge over Barksdale in this position battle. I see Carlisle opening the season here, with Barksdale, Hurd, and Alex Parsons providing depth and competition.
The left tackle position is set. Jared Veldheer proved any doubters wrong last season when he allowed only four sacks all year and shut out leading sack-man Jared Allen of the Vikings in Week 11. Veldheer is a beast in both pass protection and leading the edge in rushing and is looking like the franchise left tackle Al Davis thought he was when he snagged him from tiny Hillsdale College in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft.
You can almost see Veldheer flipping the proverbial "bird" to draft critics with those short arms of his as he moves closer to the Pro Bowl.
With the first Raiders draft choice without Al Davis in aeons, McKenzie drafted Tony Bergstrom; a beast of a tackle from Utah with a mean streak and a history of success on the left side. Many people think he's a great candidate to replace incumbent RT Khalif Barnes, but Barnes is an excellent tackle who gets far less credit than he deserves and will not give up his starting job easily.
Barnes, it may surprise some people to know, allowed only 3.5 sacks all last season. While that number isn't Pro Bowl level, it's certainly better than many would have you believe. It appears that Barnes has been painted with the "Kwame Harris" bulls-eye by many Raider fans, when in truth his play simply doesn't warrant the criticism.
Barnes is only 30 and has been healthy for a full year for the first time in a while; Bergstrom has some excellent promise and will probably start soon, but I still see Barnes opening the season on Monday Night Football.
That leaves center, which is also set. Stefen Wisniewski is the second Wisniewski to come to Oakland, stick his nose in the dirt and endear himself to Raider Nation. "Wiz 2.0" will slide over from LG to replace Satele, returning to the natural position he dominated at Penn State. Last season the combination of Wiz at LG and Satele at center worked well. However, Satele is gone, and other than free agent Colin Miller, nobody on the roster save Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Condo has any experience playing center. And Condo is a long-snapper and special teamer, not a viable starting lineman.
That leaves Wisniewski, which is excellent news for Raider Nation; having only Miller as a viable backup is not.
It appears that the starting line will look essentially the same as last season, with one new face and another new place as the starters will be LT - Veldheer, LG - Carlisle, C - Wisniewski, RG - Brisiel, and RT - Barnes.
But the depth and talent behind them is very encouraging. Bergstrom and Barksdale (holy B's Batman!) could push for starting gigs, and Wang, Hurd, and Parsons can all play multiple positions along the line and add plenty of size to the bench. Miller is important as a backup center, and Parsons can also snap the ball in a pinch.
Not content to rest on past success, Reggie McKenzie saw the need for some changes so he slightly shifted starting personnel, and then set about signing big, strong bodies to compete and sniff-out the best five by the end of training camp. The message is clear: competition brings out the best; iron sharpens iron.
Get out your whetstones boys; it's going to be a long summer!
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