Raiders Offense Will Go As Far As O-Line Takes Them

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Raiders Offense Will Go As Far As O-Line Takes Them
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The changes the Oakland Raiders made in the offseason have gotten a lot of attention from the media and fans.

They traded for quarterback Jason Campbell, ditched Jamarcus Russell, completely re-tooled the defensive front seven, and hired a new offensive coordinator in Hue Jackson.

But the Raiders offensive line remained rather stagnant, and it deserves major scrutiny.

All five current starters on the line were with the team last season. Two mid-round draft picks, two free-agent rookies, a second year free agent, and one veteran back up were added to the roster.

None of those players are expected to be plugged into the lineup for the season opener. They are here to provide depth, or are talented projects who will most likely need some time before they are ready to start.

Last season the Raiders finished 21st in rushing yards gained, and allowed the third most sacks in the NFL. That's a bad combo. Though no Russell should help bring the sack total down.

Most offenses go as far as their offensive line takes them. Only one playoff team from 2009 finished in the bottom half of the league in both rushing yards and sacks allowed. That team was the first-round knockout, Philadelphia Eagles.

The Raiders certainly lack the offensive weapons the 2009 Eagles had, and definitely didn't pressure the QB or force turnovers like them.

It's great to have a new quarterback who can complete almost 65 percent of his passes, and who has had his completion percentage increase each of the past three seasons. The Raiders haven't had a QB start all 16 games and complete over 60 percent of his passes since Rich Gannon in 2002.

But if he can't stay upright, it will be hard for him to complete many passes. Campbell had to deal with poor protection in Washington, which affected his accuracy on down field throws, and it may follow him here.

Let's look at the top eight offensive linemen and what they bring to the table.

 

Mario Henderson - LT

Hederson came on strong in 2008 after getting out of former head coach Lane Kiffin's dog house. He parlayed that strong finish into an opportunity to start in 2009. 

He had a great training camp, which re-assured the coaching staff he could be the starting left tackle. There wasn't much competition to fend off however after Kalif Barnes fractured his foot.

Since becoming the full-time left tackle, Henderson has been inconsistent. His lack of focus appears on the field at times, as he will just flat out miss a pass rusher going by him. Other times he gets in trouble by not moving his feet or leaning too far forward. 

Mel Kiper's knock on him coming out of Florida State was that he was very athletic and a great physical specimen, but hadn't put it all together yet. You know, Al Davis' type of guy. 

Without being inside the Raiders' facility every day, it's hard to know how that lack of focus or motivation manifests itself. Does he watch as much film as he should? Is he studious when watching the film? Or has he just gotten comfortable knowing there's not much competition for his spot?

Whatever the problem may be, he's shown flashes of great play, is very talented, and is still a young player. The Raiders need him to play more consistently, as left tackle is the most critical to pass protection. Hopefully rookie Jared Veldheer or Barnes can put some pressure on him to play better.

 

Robert Gallery - LG

It's been a long, strange journey for Gallery as an Oakland Raider. Not that it hasn't been strange for most long-tenured Raiders, but Gallery's has been exceptionally turbulent. 

After being considered a bust as the second-overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft at left and right tackle, Gallery has settled into being the team's starting left guard, and its top offensive lineman. He many not be quick enough to play tackle in the NFL, but he is for a guard and is definitely strong enough to handle interior lineman.

Gallery missed 10 contests last season, and tried to play through other games banged up. When he went down, a lot of o-line shuffling occurred and the Raiders offensive-line struggles were magnified.

The Raiders need Gallery to be on the field or they can expect to struggle offensively again.

 

Samson Satele - C

The Raiders acquired Satele from the Miami Dolphins in 2009 for a fourth and sixth round draft pick, after the Dolphins signed former Raider center Jake Grove in free agency.

The knock on Satele in Miami was that he couldn't handle blocking the big interior lineman of the NFL. Most reviews said he wasn't able to push them, and they could push him.

Well, that evaluation has been true of his time as a Raider too. Satele and the Raiders attributed his problems with moving big lineman to a shoulder injury he suffered in 2008. He had his torn labrum fixed before coming over to the Raiders. One would expect his shoulder to still be weak just months removed from a procedure like that, and he also missed time with a calf injury last season.

However in the preseason opener against Dallas, we saw the same problems again. Satele had trouble pushing the Cowboys lineman backwards on run plays, and would get shoved into the backfield in pass protection. Too often we saw him looking backwards as the player he was blocking made a tackle.

If Satele can't handle the rigors of center in the NFL, he may find himself replaced by young-veteran Chris Morris or rookie Jered Veldheer.

 

Cooper Carlilse - RG

Former Denver Bronco Cooper Carlisle is the type of lineman Cable, then the offensive line coach, wanted for his zone blocking scheme when he was hired by Kiffin. 

Yes, it felt gross mentioning the Broncos and Kiffin in the same sentence.

Carlisle is quick, pulls well, and gets down field. He's light for a modern NFL guard, as he is listed at 295 lbs. Unlike Satele, he is able to push lineman down field on run plays or at least do a good job of turning them to create a seal and an alley to run through. (Picture Vince Lombardi at the chalk board)

But like Satele, he gets pushed backwards by big interior lineman on pass plays. So Carlisle grades out as pretty average. He's steady if unspectacular, fits the system well, and is durable.

The Raiders will hang on to him until his pass-blocking becomes a major liability or they find a top-flight guard or younger player with a higher upside to replace him.

 

Langston Walker - RT

Where do I begin? First, let's address the obvious question most Raider fans have regarding Walker.

Why is he still here? 

Is he back to be our designated field-goal blocker?

What seemed to be just an injury- necessitated, in-season signing last season with a familiar player, turned into a resigning and a starting spot for the 2010 season. I don't get it.

He was deemed not good enough to be resigned after the 2006 season, which he wasn't, and went to Buffalo. He was released by the Bills after two-and-a-half seasons, and was picked up by the Raiders when multiple lineman went down with injuries last year.

Langston is big and strong, but that's about it. He is not mobile enough for offensive tackle or to be in the Raiders zone blocking scheme. And he commits far too many penalties. 

My good friend and Raiders season ticket holder, Todd Fournoy, refers to Walker as, "The Stuart Schweigert of the offensive line." As you can imagine, he didn't like Stuart Schweigert.

Walker is obviously someone Davis likes, and is a former second round pick out of Cal Berkeley in 2002. 

Even with being a Davis favorite, I don't expect him to remain in the starting line up throughout the season due to his poor play. He could be replaced by Veldheer, Barnes, Henderson if he is moved from left tackle, or several street free agents and UFL players looking for NFL jobs.

 

Jared Veldheer - T/C

The rookie's name has been mentioned a few times in this article already. Veldheer was drafted in the third round out of football powerhouse, Hillsdale college. I assume it's somewhere near the mall. 

Even though he is from a small school in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, he is a big guy with big-time talent. We've already heard from Jerry McDonald that he has done well in one-on-one passing drills and plays from scrimmage.

At 6'8" and 315 lbs, he fits the bill to play tackle in the NFL. He is very athletic for his size and seems to be a bright guy, as he is picking up two positions rather quickly. 

He didn't just play well against his small school's competition in college, he dominated it. His progress will determine if the Raiders can move one of their problematic, weaker lineman to the bench and replace them with the more talented Veldheer this season.

 

Bruce Campbell - G/T

Campbell is a Davis type of guy as well. He's big, fast, strong, was a workout warrior, and has a lot of potential. Many draft "experts" expected Davis to take him in the first round. Instead the Raiders took him in the fourth.

Like Veldheer, the Raiders are having Campbell learn two positions to increase his versatility. He's had good moments and bad moments so far in camp. But overall, you can see the potential due to his athletic ability.

He was banged up in his junior season at Maryland, playing in nine games, but only finishing seven of them. He's still raw and inexperienced and will probably take two to three years to develop. But his upside makes him worth keeping an eye on, and keeping hope for him to improve the Raiders o-line down the road.

 

Chris Morris - C/G

A seventh round draft pick of the Raiders in 2006 out of Michigan State, Morris is versatile and steady, and started 10 games last season after only starting once in his previous three seasons. 

It's unclear if Morris can be a starter in the NFL. He did okay filling in for various injured Raiders offensive lineman. He was the starting center for a stretch last year, filling in for Satele while his shoulder was still weak and had an injured calf, and then played guard after Gallery was injured. 

He played better than Satele for while last season, and is pressuring him again for playing time. He's best suited for center, is still only 27 years old, and has only started 11 games in his career.

Satele makes more money than Morris, so the Raiders have to start the season with the depth chart at center as it is now. But If Satele continues to get pushed into the backfield, Morris could get another shot to be the Raiders starting center and should hang on to the job this time.

 

So there they are. The Raiders top eight. One potential pro-bowl caliber guard, and a lot of question marks.

The young Raider lineman are the unknown variables in the offensive line equation. Their progress determines if the Raiders have to stay with the veterans if they struggle and how much the Raiders o-line as a whole can improve from within.

It's important to have skill and speed, but without time or running lanes to use the speed, it's all for naught. The Raiders will have to rely on quick-hitting plays, rather than their beloved deep ball if the offensive line doesn't improve.

If it doesn't improve, the quarterback turnstile, and losing records, will continue.

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