Raiders looking at Oline overhaul

The Raiders announced the hiring of a new offensive line coach Monday. It will be former Broncos’ co-offensive line coach Bob Wylie. He is the latest coaching hire brought in to replace the departed coaching staff that was let go with former head coach Tom Cable. And with the new coaches comes a high likelihood of a new system and therefore some new players to institute it.

Wylie replaces former offensive line coach Jim Michalczik. The announcement comes just days after the Raiders announced the hiring of former Raider left guard Steve Wisniewski as assistant offensive line coach. He replaces former assistant Chris Morgan. Both of the former coaches worked closely with Tom Cable in the zone blocking scheme, something Al Davis didn’t seem to care for as evidenced by his statement during the Hue Jackson hiring press conference:  ”(Cable) is a zone blocking purist and I’m not a zone blocking purist. And we switched already this year.”

Adding to the idea that there could be new personnel along the line is the statement Hue Jackson made when the Raiders hired Wylie to coach the line, that Wylie will really help the Raiders as they ”move forward in assembling a really good offensive line.” The key word is “assembling” which suggests there will be a lot of new pieces brought in to rebuild the line.

The two new coaches do not have zone blocking backgrounds. In fact, Wylie was brought into the fold for the Broncos with the very task of switching them out of the scheme after the Broncos ran it for so many years under former coach Mike Shanahan. Now Wylie has been given the same job with the Raiders.

Wisniewski was a Raider his entire career as a power blocking left guard. He had a Hall of Fame caliber career that included eight Pro Bowl invitations and two All Pro selections over 13 years in which he missed just two starts.

Al Saunders, the Raiders new offensive coordinator, has also long been seen as a more traditional, drop back, power blocking offensive mind. His offenses have been leading the league in passing yards since he was a coordinator and assistant in the early 80′s under Don “Air” Coryell.

What all of this means is that the Raiders may have to make some sweeping changes along the offensive line. Right now the Raider linemen are designed for the zone blocking scheme — the interior lineman in particular.

The trio of Robert Gallery, Samson Satele, and Cooper Carlisle had great years last season but they could all be leaving Oakland before next season, or at very least, demoted.

Satele is the most obvious case of a player who starts because of his fit in the zone blocking scheme. He has always been seen as undersized for an NFL lineman. He couldn’t hold up in Miami because he was getting overpowered by bigger nose tackles. He really came into his own last season but that is because he is athletic and aggressive, which is what the ZBS calls for. He is set to become a free agent and it seems highly likely the team may let him walk.

If Satele is indeed not brought back, or perhaps even if he is brought back, the team will ramp up its efforts to replace him whether it be immediately or down the road. The most talked about possible replacement is Penn State center, Stefen Wisniewski. And with his uncle Steve Wisniewski as a Raider legend and now part of the Raiders’ staff, that possibility is even greater.

Robert Gallery is also a free-agent-to-be and with his strong play at left guard for the Raiders for the past few years he could be in high demand on the free agent market. He was very fond of Coach Cable and upon Cable’s release, punter Shane Lechler mentioned Gallery as a player who may opt to move on due to disapproval of the coaching change. It seems likely then that Gallery may want to follow Cable to Seattle although it is far from certain. Gallery is the most likely of the three interior linemen to be able to perform as well in the power blocking scheme as the zone. If he leaves, the Raiders will have some big shoes to fill and the need for a replacement will be an extremely high priority. Logan Mankins of the Patriots is the guy that comes to mind.

Cooper Carlisle is a wildcard because he is under contract and his being unseated will depend largely on the development of last year’s round four pick, Bruce Campbell. He struggled mightily in picking up the zone blocking but is seen by some as more of a power blocking lineman. If this turns out to be true, that could signal either the releasing of Carlisle or a benching.

Right tackle is a position the Raiders were most likely looking to upgrade regardless of scheme. Former left tackle Mario Henderson is being groomed to replace Langston Walker. Henderson was a standout right tackle at Florida State prior to being moved to the other side by the Raiders. Khalif Barnes is also on the roster although both he and Henderson are set to become free agents so it is still up in the air if either one will be a Raider next season.

The only player who is expected to return to starting duties for the Raider offensive line is last year’s rookie left tackle Jared Veldheer. He didn’t start his first game at the position until week seven of last season.

This means that the Raiders could very well field an entirely different starting front five than they did to begin last season. The question then becomes how they intend to find four new starters who will be equal or better than last year’s or previous years. It could mean a lot of free agent money shelled out and quite a few draft picks spent as well. But without a first round pick, the Raiders will have to get creative. It appears at this point they were able to find a gem in Veldheer in the third round.

Regardless of how it shakes out, the Oline is now a top priority this offseason and the Raiders are going to have to work some magic if they hope to field a solid group next season. This will get interesting.

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ALSO SEE: 2011 NFL Mock Draft: Rounds 1-2

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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