To the untrained eye belonging to the casual fan, the most important player on the field is the quarterback. Maybe a star running back or wide receiver. Those of us who are rabid football fans know better.
He is a mountain of a man, even among other huge men. He stands 6'7" and weighs over 300 lbs. He wears the number of an all time great, Howie Long. He is Mario Henderson, left tackle. And if the Raiders are going to have success this season, he will be the place where it all starts.
Offensive linemen are unsung heroes. There are no highlights on sportscenter, no glamorous Stuart Scott comments, no Chris Berman shout outs. They are the huge behemoths who make everyone else look good (or bad) but rarely get much credit. Theirs is a mostly thankless job. After all, you don't draft offensive linemen in fantasy football.
But left tackles (assuming the QB throws right handed, as most do) have an incredibly important role: protecting the quarterback's blind side. Miss a block and your quarterback is usually hit with a devastating, and sometimes injury-causing sack.
Henderson was drafted by the Raiders in the third round in 2007 (# 91 overall) out of Florida State, but didn't become a starter until midway through the 2008 season. In 2009, he started all 16 games.
The Raiders revolving door of quartebacks (featuring the incredibly inept and immobile JaMarcus Russell) and porous offensive line surrendered a 49 sacks in 2009.That number is simply unacceptable and reducing it in 2010 has been a major focus thus far.
With the arrival of Jason Campbell, the Raiders speedy receivers, combined with the traditional vertical passing game that the team is known for, the left tackle position will be vital to getting Campbell the time he needs to locate open targets and get the ball off accurately.
Thus far, Henderson has had a good camp. Coach Tom Cable spoke about Henderson on Saturday.
"There are some really good things going on and some things that we want to make him more consistent with" Cable said. "One of those things being the pass. The other things I like, so I just wan to clean that up."
"Cleaning up" the offensive line is something that has to happen if the Raiders will be successful in 2010. With the Return of Robert Gallery at Guard, the focus will be on Henderson to enable Campbell to do his job and get the Raider sin the end zone. Although Campbell will get the glory, we'll know that it was only because Mario Henderson watched his back.