The Oakland Raiders offensive line is a work in progress. They will be the determining factor in the success of failure of the offense because the games are won and lost in the trenches.
At the left offensive tackle position, Mario Henderson has been inconsistent through his time as a starter. He has had games where he has rendered top defensive ends impotent, but in other games he falls apart and becomes hazardous to his quarterback’s health. The Super Mario/Not so Super Mario dichotomy played out in the preseason. In the game against the Chicago Bears, Henderson kept All Pro defensive end Julius Peppers in check during his entire shift. The following week Bad Mario showed up and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Travis LaBoy knocked Jason Campbell out of the game. It is helpful that Campbell is more mobile and consistent in his footwork than JaMarcus Russell was, but Henderson is going to have to be consistent to make the line work.
Opposite Henderson, at right tackle, is the prodigal Raider Langston Walker. After two years of Cornell “penalty machine” Green at right tackle, Walker will be an upgrade. Walker was signed prior to week six of the 2009 season. He ended up starting the final three games at left guard after Robert Gallery went down to injury. Walker was expected to battle it out with Khalif Barnes and to a lesser extent Erik Pears for the starting position. However, Walker ran with the first team almost exclusively through the offseason and into training camp. Barnes had two disappointing games at right tackle in 20009 and was inactive for the remainder of the season. The now released Erik Pears started two games at right tackle and was also horrendous. Pears had been used as an extra blocking tight end in preseason but was released on Wednesday morning.
Robert Gallery has been by far the Raiders most consistent offensive lineman since he moved to left guard in 2007. The biggest question with Gallery is a matter of health. He missed nine games in 2009 and had offseason back surgery. His counterpart on the right side Cooper Carlisle was one of only two offensive linemen to start all 16 games in ’09. (Mario Henderson was the other one.) He was originally brought in prior to the 2007 season to be a veteran presence as then-offensive line coach Tom Cable installed the zone blocking scheme. He has been steady but not spectacular.
The center position was a question mark coming into the season with returning starting Samson Satele having disappointed after being acquired in a trade from the Miami Dolphins prior to the 09 season. Neither Satele, nor Chris Morris had a good camp. This led to third round pick Jared Veldheer, an offensive tackle out of division II Hillsdale college being tried out at center. He won the starting job with only one game as a starting center, and that being the third preseason game against the Niners. The center is the one who calls out the line blocking assignments, so that adds a great deal of responsibility to the rookie’s shoulders. It also gives a potential weakness for the opposition to exploit.
The old cliché is that games are won and lost in the trenches, but this is the area where the Raiders have the most questions. They need consistent play from the offensive line if their offense is going to live up to their potential.