Despite drafting four offensive linemen in the past two NFL drafts, the Oakland Raiders are still looking sort of like chokeland faiders along the offensive front five. Perhaps their best overall lineman, 2004 second overall pick Robert Gallery, is all but gone assuming there is a free agency period this year. The Raiders have certainly put themselves in a good position for tomorrow, but who would be the starters if the NFL resumed regularly scheduled business today?
Really, the only surefire bet this year is that Stefen Wisniewski is going to be the opening day center. “Wiz Kid” – as he has appropriately been dubbed – could be one of the smartest linemen ever to dawn the Silver and Black. This guy was born and bred with the sole purpose of one day being drafted by the Raiders. While some seemed to think he might end up elsewhere, like Kansas City or New England, there was never any doubt in the mind of Al Davis that he was going to be an Oakland Raider. Earlier this offseason, Hue Jackson was asked if the Raiders were looking at Wisniewski as a potential second round draft choice; Jackson responded simply, “We know exactly who Stefen Wisniewski is.”
Certainly one of the lingering questions hanging over the line this year is going to be finding out whether or not 2010 third-round draft choice, Jared Veldheer, is up to the task of handling quarterback Jason Campbell’s blindside in 2011. Veldheer gave up ten sacks in his rookie season, but also made several “All-Rookie” teams as a left tackle at the conclusion of the season. I think the Raiders are going to have to move forward with Veldheer as their left side starter for lack of a better fit as well as his high potential. Veldheer showed signs that he is capable of becoming the left tackle that Gallery never turned out to be. After obtaining major repetitions against several NFL veteran defensive ends in 2010, he could very well prove to be worthy in his sophomore NFL season.
During the Raiders “OTA’s” in Atlanta at the end of May, Bruce Campbell came to play. Campbell reportedly lined up at both the interior guard position he was assigned to as a rookie as well as the right tackle position. Campbell later said that he has no intentions of moving back to the outside this year, but wanted to be prepared and get re-acclimated to being on the exterior of the line just in case the staff wanted him to. You know what they say, where opportunity meets preparation, that is where you find success. However, I think Campbell needs to start at one of the two guard spots for the Raiders this year. Personally, I’d put him on the oppopsite side of Veldheer. Last year, although Bruce is a physical specimen, he was never really mentally prepared to step into game-day action for his team. Al Davis made a big stink about Tom Cable not having him ready to get some reps by the end of the season also. After a year just watching and learning from veterans Cooper Carlisle and Robert Gallery, there is a huge opportunity here for Campbell to make his presence known.
Okay, so to recap, so far I have my left tackle Jared Veldheer, my center Stefen Wisniewski, and my right guard Bruce Campbell. Essentially, two rookies and an unproven second year player.That is simple enough but it could hurt the Raiders until the three mates get acclimated to each other. Now for the hard part.
A lingering dilemma following the 2010 season is who is going to fill the shoes of the guy that used to be arguably the Raiders best lineman, Robert Gallery. Some say that Langston Walker did an admirable job of filling in for Gallery when he missed the final nine games of the 2009 season. Others contend that Daniel Loper was not mentioned while filling in for him the first four games of 2010. They tell me that is a good thing if you’re an offensive lineman. Loper was re-signed, and Walker is considering retirement after just nine NFL seasons.
Last year, in the right tackle position, Langston Walker pretty much proved to the world why the Buffalo Bills let him walk after signing him to a lucrative contract. He just looked lazy and slow at times. My wife actually pointed out that they needed a new right tackle during the one half of football she watched last season. Loper, on the other hand, looked like a guy that was looking to prove himself as worthy of a starting job after being ditched by the Tennessee Titans and the Detroit Lions. Neither of those teams is known for their offensive lines, but it’s still highly unlikely that two NFL clubs underrated Loper. The left guard position, to me, is going to be the highest area of need when the free agency period begins this year. Look for the Raiders to consider runs at the Falcons Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock as well as Baltimore Ravens guard Chris Chester to possibly come in and compete on the line.
Perhaps some of you think that the Raiders still need help at right tackle. I, however, am confident that the starter at this position is already on the roster. After the Raiders re-sign offensive tackle Mario Henderson — which will be shortly after they re-sign Zach Miller — they will have a good preseason competition between Henderson and incoming rookie, Joseph Barksdale for this position. If there is atually is a preseason this year, we will find out who the starter is just prior to the regular season. If there is a shortened or no preseason, look for Henderson to start right away. Henderson played right tackle at Florida State and started for approximately two years on the left side for the Raiders. After all of that experience, you have to figure he is a good candidate to make the switch for the Raiders and be the guy on the right side. Last season, in a fill-in role while Walker was briefly out with an injury, Henderson looked like a natural on that side of the line and for a moment made you forget about his woes on the other side of the ball. According to Henderson, one of the things that helped him was having a quarterback that knew how to take the proper drop for each play as opposed to JaWalruss — who could barely lace his cleats. When Henderson knew where his quarterback was going to be in the pocket it helped him shield his assignement. Still, there is an outside chance that LSU rookie Joe Barksdale gives him a run for his money.
So there you have it. If the season starts tomorrow, the Oakland Raiders offensive line will be Veldheer-Loper-Wisniewski-Campbell-Henderson. It’s not fantastic, but this unit has the potential to grow and become a lot better over time. And no matter what the Raiders do in the future, nothing will ever compare to the atrocity that was the 2006 offensive line so you can take solice in the fact that’s over.
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