Oakland Raiders: Trouble in the Trenches?
With all of the improvements the Raiders made in the offseason it's easy to see why there is new life and energy radiating from the Black Hole.
The Raiders addressed a porous run defense with the acquisition of John Henderson, Kamerion Wimbley, Quentin Groves and through the draft with Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston. With these additions and the subtraction of Gerard Warren I look for the Raider defense to crack the top 10 in the league this year.
They also addressed the biggest issue on offense with the acquisition of Jason Campbell and the subtraction of JaBusted Russell. They added depth on the offensive line through the draft and with undrafted free agents. I have one lingering doubt in my mind, did they really do anything to upgrade the offensive line THIS year?
The release of Cornell Green made everyone in the Raider Nation happy and we all hope that Khalif Barnes can step in and improve the right side. There are still many question marks on the Offensive line and in this slideshow I will look position by position at the questions that remain to be answered
LT: Mario Henderson
Henderson is the projected starter and has done enough to earn first crack at the job. Last year Henderson would look like the stalwart left tackle the Raiders have been looking for in one week and a less than stellar tackle in the next week.
He will benefit from improved play at the quarterback position with Jason Campbell under center. More consistent footwork and an internal clock that doesn't read "duh" from the quarterback will undoubtedly help Henderson but in the NFL there is always the threat of injury. Which leads me to my next point.
What happens if Henderson is injured?
Back ups: Jared Veldheer, Bruce Campbell, Erik Pears, Allen Smith, Elliot Vallejo, Langston Walker
First and foremost: I know Walker is more likely to play guard but if Henderson goes down the Raiders will be scrambling for a band aid at the left tackle position.
Jared Veldheer/Bruce Campbell: Both rookies are athletic and mobile but neither appears ready to start on the blind side should an injury occur early in the season. Both would benefit from a year of experience under their belts. If one is pressed into duty I would lean towards Veldheer but it would not be a pretty sight for either rookie to start. Both have near ideal measurables with height, weight, agility, strength and speed but it takes time to learn the game at the pro level. Veldheer dominated at the Division II level but that is a huge leap. Campbell is a combine star that could be vastly under rated if he can improve his consistency.
Erik Pears: Suited to be a back up. He does have some experience but if you thought the line was atrocious last year just imagine Pears protecting Campbells blind side.
Allen Smith is an intriguing undrafted free-agent addition. Smith showed flashes of potential in his Freshman year at Washington State where he was voted to the Pac 10's all-freshman squad and was an honorable mention Freshman All-American by Scout.com as a tackle. Smith received a sixth-year of eligibilty due to medical hardship. He suffered a torn patella tendon in his left knee after starting only the first three games in 2007 and a fractured knee cap in off-season workouts causing him to miss the entire 2008 season. He also suffered a sprained knee in 2009 at Stanford. Injury history is obviously a concern and Smith might be best suited as a guard where he will be less injury prone.......maybe.
Elliot Vallejo: Most likely a practice squad addition this year.
Langston Walker: With his size and age I just don't see him having the agility to get to the speed rush on the outside. Maybe you keep a tight end in to help but this would also spell trouble for the offense.
Not only are the Raiders looking for Henderson to have a break-out year but also stay healthy the entire season.
LG: Robery Gallery
Gallery was once thought to be the left tackle of the future for the Raiders. Those days are long gone but the Raiders found in Gallery their most consistent and quality man in the trenches. That is, until he was injured in Week 2 last year. The Raiders line fell apart without Gallery to count on. The Raider Nation is counting on Gallery to play a full season and realize the potential that would culminate in a Pro Bowl appearance.
What happens if he gets injured again?
Back ups: Alex Parsons, Daniel Loper, Brandon Rodd, Allen Smith
For some reason people seem to believe that Alex Parsons will somehow see significant time on the offensive line, whether at guard or center. While Parsons is a versatile lineman who could possibly fill in at any position along the line I think people tend to under estimate how difficult it truly is to start on the offensive line as a rookie, especially one who went undrafted. Parsons is intriguing much like Allen Smith and with his versatility I see him earning a back up spot on our offensive line.
Daniel Loper comes via free agency after stints with Detroit and Tennessee in which he only started 5 games and they all came last year with the Lions! Ouch, not exactly what I'm looking for at left guard.
Rodd was cut at the end of training camp by the Raiders in 2008 and was relegated to the practice squad in 2009. Unless he has taken a giant step forward I only see him as emergency depth on the line.
I documented the injury history associated with Allen Smith in my last slide but I do put some stock in the potential he showed early on. If he can stay healthy he just might find a back up spot at guard or a year of health on the practice squad could earn him a spot next year.
C: Samson Satele
If only the myth of Samson and his hair were true. Potentially the weakest point on the offensive line is at the center position. Satele too often was pushed into the backfield by overpowering nose-tackles. He didn't win the center position coming out of camp as the Raiders went with the versatile and equally strength-challenged Chris Morris. Sateles lack of ideal strength does not bode well for him in the power blocking scheme offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would like to sprinkle into the running game.
Satele is a footwork and finesse Center who will rely on help from the guard position to aid him in opening holes and slowing the rush. Needless to say this position leaves much to be desired. Anyone have Kevin Mawae's number handy? I'm just sayin'!
I say what if because I believe the entire Raider Nation hopes that someone can step up from our undrafted rookie class to assume the starting position. An uphill challenge I went over in the previous slide.
Remember Nation, I bleed Silver and Black and have hopes the same as you. So here's my back ups and hopes for the center position. There are a few gems to be had through undrafted rookies, they are just few and far between
Back ups: Chris Morris, Alex Parsons, Allen Smith, Kevin Mawae?
Morris is a jack of all trades and a master of none. He is versatile enough to earn a roster spot as he can fill in at multiple positions. He will never be the answer to a full time question. period.
Alex Parsons is versatile as I have previously mentioned but as a rookie it is even more difficult to start at center where you are expected to call protections and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Without knowing his "football IQ" I would have to say it is more likely he would see time at guard.
Maybe center would be the answer to Allen Smiths injury problems but he is also unlikely to crack the starting line with no experience as a center and all of his experience came at the Tackle position. A longshot hardly worth the mention at center, which brings me to.........
Mawae not Raider Nation? I don't see the downside of adding this veteran if only to share some knowledge and insight with our center prospects. Who knows? Maybe he pushes Satele to work a little harder in the weight room and with Cable on his technique. What if he has one year left in the tank? I don't see the risk in bringing him in for camp.
RG: Langston Walker/Bruce Campbell/Cooper Carlisle
Langston Walker appears to be the front-runner at guard after coming in last year to replace Cooper Carlisle. Walker has experience in the NFL and while most of it came at tackle he showed he is not opposed to sliding inside if it benefits the team. He is massive at 6'8" and 360lbs. and his mobility is a concern in a ZBS running game but he could always see time when Hue Jackson decides to dial up the power blocking scheme.
Carlisle is "serviceable" at best. He will never shine in the game tape and relies on his technique more than anything else. He doesn't have ideal mobility and was too often victimized in pass protection as well. He only helps the Raiders in the depth category.
Bruce Campbell is the wild-card in this mix. Coach Cable has made it known that Campbell is at guard on the second team only to maximize his repetitions and gain familiarity with the blocking scheme. I'm not sure everyone is buying this. Campbell is well-suited for the guard position with his incredible combination of size, speed and athleticism. He is 6'6" and 315lbs. and ran a 4.85 at the combine. Couple that with a reach of 36 1/4" and 34 bench press reps and you can only imagine what he would look like pulling from the right side and looking to run over anyone in his path. I do believe that in time he could develop into a solid tackle but he may be able to have an immediate impact at guard if he can acclimate and solidify his suspect technique.
Injury is not as much of a concern as I do believe with the aforementioned players and Parsons, Allen and Morris we will have the depth necessary to band-aid the right guard position.
RT: Khalif Barnes
The Raiders are hoping that the off-season afforded Barnes with the opportunity to get healthier and more comfortable with the idea of playing right tackle. The fans are hoping Barnes can take over for "Can of" Cornell Green the ever-twitching right tackle that we all loved to scream at when the yellow flag was flying. Barnes can immediately upgrade the offensive line if he can regain his slightly above-average form from his days in Jacksonville where he played Left Tackle for the Jags. This would be a welcome sight for the Raiders and allow the Rookies behind him time to learn and adjust to the level of play at the pro level.
What if Barnes gets injured?
Here we go again with the what if's!
The back ups: Bruce Campbell, Jared Veldheer, Langston Walker, Erik Pears, Alex Parsons, Allen Smith
I doubt Campbell would be ready to assume the starting job at any point during the season but if he wins the starting right guard job(not likely) then I believe the Raiders might look to Langston Walker to fill the void. If Campbell is ready then he is ahead of the curve and while there would definitely be some growing pains it would be exciting for the fans to possibly get a glimpse of the future at right tackle.
If he is not ahead of the curve it would be left to Walker or Veldheer in my opinion. Walker does not have the desired agility to deal with an agile speed-rusher but the Raiders would have limited options at this point. He has good size and experience at the Tackle position but I have serious concerns about his ability to protect the quarterback on the end of the line.
Jared Veldheer is most likely going to need a full season to be able to compete full-time on the offensive line at the NFL level. I do believe he has the ability to anchor the line but not this year and possibly not next year. It's hard to project how quickly a player will assimilate to the level of play required to start at tackle.
I made it clear about how I feel for Erik Pears. It would be easier to see him filling in at right tackle than left but would still leave me with a knot in my stomach. In no way do I want this to be the scenario.
The best of the rest is Alex Parsons and Allen Smith and I don't see either being able to step up and man the position.
So let's hope for a healthy year for all of our Offensive Linemen. Just don't ignore the one area of our football team that could lead to a tougher-than-expected year in 2010.
Just playing devil's advocate considering anyone can write about all of the great things going on with the Raiders right now. I see the 2010 Raiders as the team with the greatest potential to break out and suprise the NFL. Al willing.
In Cable We Trust
With the addition of Hue Jackson to inspire and lead a much improved Raiders attack Tom Cable will be allowed to do what he does best, develop linemen. The hopes of a nation rest with Cable's ability to do just that. The Raiders have added youth and depth to the offensive line and if they can gel quickly and solidify the second tier players to push the starters they will be a much improved offensive team in 2010.
Many teams have had success with a stout defense and only a mediocre offense. I expect the Raiders defense to be stout and the offense to surpass mediocrity. My prediction for 2010 is 9-7 but I have to temper my optimism to arrive at that record. Let me hear your thoughts Nation.