With the draft only a few weeks away, general manager Reggie McKenzie has done a tremendous job filling in the holes of the Oakland Raiders.
On defense, he has signed serviceable players such as Philip Wheeler, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Of course, there are other positions—such as tight end, left guard and right tackle—that can be upgraded.
Of those three, I see left guard being the most glaring because there is no apparent heir to take over as starter. At right tackle, Khalif Barnes will be pushed by second-year Joseph Barksdale, while both Richard Gordon and Davis Ausberry will fight with Brandon Myers at tight end.
But left guard? Right now, Cooper Carlisle is penciled in as the starter and many Raider fans are not exactly excited about the prospect. Carlisle came to the Raiders when Tom Cable was still the head coach running the zone-blocking system.
Three seasons later, Hue Jackson arrived and threw out the zone-blocking scheme. Today, Jackson is no longer the coach and the Raiders are running the zone-blocking system once again. It's not fair to say Carlisle won't flourish in the system, but turning 35 in August, Carlisle's best days are behind him and the Raiders have to find a new guard to replace him, eventually.
First, let's take a look at what it takes to be a good zone blocker. Here's an informative piece from RaiderNationTimes:
In order to play in a zone blocking scheme, a lineman has to have the speed and agility to move and get to an area fast, or to make one block and move quickly on to the second level. Of course linemen need strength to dominate the line, but the difference here is the required speed and short area quickness to get where they need to be quickly.
Not many really huge linemen have that (although some do), and players generally need to be on the lighter side (300 – 310lbs) to function well within the system.
I want to introduce to you Brandon Brooks of Miami University (Ohio). Brooks is a behemoth of a player, coming in at 6'5" and weighing in at 346 lbs. Right off the bat, you're probably thinking I'm an idiot who completely ignored the second paragraph of the above quote; Brooks is about 36 lbs over the ideal weight of a zone blocker.
You're also probably thinking that Brooks isn't very fast either. At his pro day, he ran an official 4.99 40-yard dash. But how does long-distance speed show that Brooks can adapt to a zone-blocking system? In the three-cone drill—a drill that displays a player's short-area quickness—Brooks recorded a time of 7.37. Only David DeCastro and Matt Kalil had better times at the Combine.
Clearly, Brooks is athletic enough to play in a zone-blocking system. He also has the strength to become a franchise left guard in a power-blocking system, or, if needed, a right tackle in both.
A player's athleticism is one thing, but how he performs on the field is another. Believe me when I tell you all, Brandon Brooks is a quality lineman. As a pass-blocker, he does a very good job keeping his man in front of him. I went back and watched a bunch of highlights of his games, and I do not recall him ever having trouble with his man.
In the run game, it is a whole different story. When I say this guy moves people, I'm not joking—he really moves people. With his big size, he drives with his legs and almost always wins his assignments. He also has the ability to move to the second level without losing a step.
In one play against Akron, I saw Brooks, lined up at right guard, double team a defensive tackle and drive him about five yards, allow the center to take over, and go on to block a linebacker into another defender.
Brooks is a going to be one heck of a player. He has the versatility to play both guard positions, but can also kick outside to tackle. He has the speed and quickness to excel in a zone-blocking system, but also the size and power to play in a traditional power-blocking system.
While other positions are in more need of depth, such as outside linebacker, the Raiders have to think long and hard when it's their turn to pick at 95.