Since the harassment of the Raiders' QBs in the '06 season, the Raiders' O-line has gone a long way in the correct direction. After giving up a miserable 72 sacks, the number declined to 41 last season.
Given the large array of staff changes, as well as the multitude of coaching-scheme variations happening year after year, not much could be expected from this group.
In comes Coach Tom Cable. Known for establishing a well-versed running game during his tenure with Atlanta, Cable is turning heads once again with the ground attack he established in Oakland last year. Turning the Raiders into the sixth-best rushing team in the NFL and, of course, a 72 to 41-sack turnaround (with the SAME starters from '06), Cable has given Raider Nation a reason to be optimistic again.
With a running game like Oakland’s, along with the laser-rocket arm of QB JaMarcus Russell behind them, this O-line will probably have the most active part in returning Oakland to its glory days
Respecting the fact that all O-linemen are equally important in the roles they play on the line as a whole, I will be highlighting only a few. They include those who will be making a path towards resurgence, not only for the team, but for themselves as well.
Center: Jake Grove
The second-round pick from Virginia Tech was rated as the best center in college coming into the 2004 draft. He also happens to be the second man behind Robert Gallery in what is commonly seen as the '04 Raiders' O-linemen busts.
Grove put a halt to such comments after he beat out veteran John Wade and was named the starter at center for '08, having taken most reps with the first-team offense during training camp and preseason.
The man started all of 2006 had to sit out the entire '07 season after he was placed on the IR list. His injury first occurred in the '05 season, but after undergoing surgery, he started the entire '06 season.
His lingering knee issues forced Jeremy Newberry to take the starting role last year. Now, after undergoing a second procedure, the once-top center in college is ready to redeem himself, showing greater movement and agility while beating out a man who has only missed eight games in the past six years.
Grove is on his way to redeem himself from his current “bust” status.
Left Guard: Robert Gallery
Robert Gallery is an integral part of what football experts and the media dub as the 2004 Raiders' O-line bust squad. But like his fellow squad member Jake Grove, working hard and proving the doubters wrong is the first of his goals.
Selected second overall, Gallery was rated as the best prospect for the 2004 NFL Draft and received the highest rating of any offensive lineman (perfect 9.0 score) since USC's Tony Boselli (8.8) in 1995 by The NFL Draft Report.
The Big-10's Offensive Lineman of the Year did not allow a sack in his last 36 college games. In short, he was today’s Jake Long.
As mentioned above, under the tutelage of several O-line coaches/ideologies and a cluster of position changes in his young NFL career (LT to RT and finally LG), the talented athlete has never had the chance to sincerely develop and hone his skills, like many of his brothers on the line.
In comes Tom Cable, and finally Robert is given a home at LG, where he is certifying his college prominence by helping the Raider’s ground attack reach amongst the elite in the league.
Gallery will be shaking the league with his emergence and look for him to reach a Pro Bowl or two along the way.
Left Tackle: Kwame Harris
The same O-line troubles that Oakland has had, Kwame Harris has witnessed across the bay; too many coaches in too little time. Because of this, his performance has quickly banished him into the "bust category" after being selected in the first round of 2003.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp, who served in the same position with the 49ers when Harris was drafted, believes Kwame still has a lot to give.
Having started all 16 games at RT in 2006, Kwame Harris played a vital role in helping Frank Gore lead the NFL in rushing and reach a 49er record of 1,695 yards. His blocking also assisted Gore in rushing for a franchise record of 212 yards in a single game the same year.
In the words of Greg Knapp, Harris is a prototypical LT, with his size and speed, and a few rusty corners only needing to be oiled and running again. With the Raiders being a run first, second, and third team, it's Harris’s run paving that probably caught Kiffin’s eye most bluntly.
Going against Pro bowler Kyle Vanden Bosch in Week Two of the preseason, some might expect the supposed "bust" from across the bay to give Mr. Bosch a five-sack day. But no, Harris maintained his ground and gave Russell a nice pocket to work in against the Titans.
As of now, Cable is working on restoring the confidence Harris has lost since his days with the 49ers. Protecting Russell’s blind side is his new role, which is a challenge he is ready to surmount.
Reflecting back on the O-line, Raider Fans can only expect it to get better with its second year under Cable. With McFadden ready to make the rushing attack even stronger and Russell looking to compete, the Raiders may already have the pieces to rise into a threatening force on offense.