The right tackle position for the Raiders hasn’t been in good hands for a while. Last season the position was in constant flux. The fact that it was the weakest position on the field (when JaMarcus Russell wasn’t behind center) was a the result of the team not actively addressing the position in recent years.
Cornell Green had become a revolving door for defensive ends to run through and the team hadn’t drafted anyone to be ready to step in for him should he go down with injury. And go down with injury he did. That was the moment we all realized that as bad as Green was, the alternatives were worse.
It seemed no matter who came in to replace Green at right tackle, they looked worse than Green ever did– and that is saying a lot. I recall saying at one point during the season, “I never thought I’d say this but, I miss Cornell Green.”
The alternatives for whom I speak were that of Khalif Barnes and Erik Pears. Pears was supposed to be ready to come in and play because he had experience in the zone blocking scheme in Denver. I am going to say that being ready was not the problem. Being terrible is more the issue here. Barnes at least had an excuse. He was out with injury since early in training camp. He hadn’t played right tackle for a while and was reluctant to do so. On top of that, he hadn’t played in the zone blocking scheme since college.
Now Cornell Green is gone and the starting right tackle spot looks to be currently up for grabs. In OTA’s this week, it was Langston Walker who was getting reps with the first team while Barnes was running with the second team. Heck, Walker even took his number 70 back from Barnes who is now sporting number 69. Walker is familiar with the right tackle position for the Raiders. He played the position for 2 seasons with the team. He then moved on to sign a deal as a free agent for the Buffalo Bills. He played well at right tackle for the Bills. Well enough in fact that they attempted to move him to left tackle. It was an experiment that didn’t work out and he was released by the Bills before the season started.
Then he re-signed with the Raiders. It is rather ironic that Walker is replacing Cornell Green in Oakland because Green is now playing right tackle for the Bills. The move is not unlike when the Dolphins signed away center Jake Grove as a free agent and the Raiders traded to acquire Samson Satele from the Dolphins to replace him. Or when the Raiders traded defensive end Derrick Burgess to the Patriots and then the Patriots traded DE Richard Seymour to the Raiders.
But even though it seems like practically a swap of right tackles, it’s anything but a sure thing. Cable says time and time again not to read anything into which players are running with first or second or third team but it is hard not to. At this point we will assume it is Walker’s job to lose just as left tackle was Mario Henderson’s job to lose last offseason and he didn’t lose it. In both cases, it was Barnes who was competing to take it.
Not only is it not a sure thing who will start, it is not even a sure thing who will make this team. After the way Barnes played last season, he had no one knocking on his door to sign him. Last offseason he tried to get more money than he was worth as a free agent and only after he realized the Raiders were his best only option did he sign a one year deal. His hope was that after a year he would prove his worth and the Raiders or some other team would shower him with starting left tackle money. Turns out he should have taken the multi-year deal he was offered in the first place. Now he is not only fighting to start at the position he bitched and moaned about playing last season, but he is fighting to stay on this team.
Let’s not forget that the Raiders drafted Bruce Campbell in who was projected by many as a first round product. If he can make strides this offseason, Cable may decide to try him at right tackle instead of as a backup right guard. That scenario is just as likely at this point as Walker or Barnes being named the starter.
Then there is the real wildcard: rookie Jared Veldheer. They expect big things from him. If he manages to supplant Mario Henderson at left tackle, Cable would almost certainly move Henderson to right tackle. Afterall, he played right tackle at Florida State so he is very capable. He is simply playing left tackle because he has been the Raiders best option. Of course, if Veldheer can’t win the left tackle job and coach Cable would like to get him playing time right now, he could try him out at right tackle.
The position is truly up in the air at this point. Langston Walker has the experience and leg up in the competition thus far. But it is early yet. And while uncertainty is never a great state to be in, the good news is that there are a few decent options. And that is a lot more than this team has had in recent years.