Season review -- Raiders OL

January 11, 2012, 8:07 pm
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It was one of the bigger question marks coming into the season and seen as one of the Raiders' biggest weaknesses. The offensive line was being rebuilt on the fly after losing veteran left guard Robert Gallery to free agency, coach Tom Cable to Al Davis' axe and had a second-year player at left tackle and a rookie to replace Gallery. But new O-line coach Bob Wylie molded the line together with more than glue and duct tape in switching from Cable's zone-blocking scheme. In fact, the line was a strength early on as Jason Campbell was only sacked twice through four games. And even after the midseason switch to Carson Palmer under center and losing Darren McFadden to injury and replacing him with Michael Bush, the Raiders still had the No. 11-ranked passing game in the NFL, the No. 7-ranked running game. It all starts up front with the grunts on the O-line.
Grade: B-OFFENSIVE LINEJared Veldheer -- A relatively unknown third-round draft pick coming out of tiny Division-II Hillsdale College in 2010, Veldheer made a huge leap in his second professional season. Charged with protecting the quarterback's blind side, the left tackle's crowning moment was his shutout of Minnesota's Jared Allen, who ended up leading the league with 22 sacks. Veldheer is starting to get national notice, as evidenced by the two All-Pro votes. Not bad for a guy that had a disastrous rookie debutat center.
Stefen Wisniewski -- Initially called the team's starting center from the moment he was drafted in the second round, No. 48 overall, out of Penn State, Li'l Wiz made the transition immediately to left guard and never looked back. But whenever Samson Satele was injured, Wisniewski made a seamless transition and, may observers claim, the Raiders running game operated more smoothly with him at center. An argument could be made that Wisniewski, who played every game, was Oakland's offensive rookie of the year.Samson Satele -- A somewhat surprising re-signing during training camp, it was assumed Satele was long gone, what with the Raiders moving on from Cable's zone-blocking scheme to a more power-blocking setup. Especially since, at 6-feet-3, 300 pounds, Satele is considered small for a center. But the fifth-year veteran helped settle the rest of the line and, though he was banged up, still started 15 games. Will be interesting to see if he returns or if the 6-3, 315-pound Wisniewski moves to center on a full-time basis.Cooper Carlisle -- Another surprise to return, what with his history as a zone-blocker, Carlisle nonetheless returned and had perhaps his finest season in his 12th year as an NFL lineman. In perhaps his finest performance of the season, the right guard limited Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a mere two tackles on Dec. 18. Though Suh would have the last laugh when he blocked Sebastian Janikowski's 65-yard game-winning field-goal attempt. Might Carlisle have a 13th year in him?Khalif Barnes -- Remember when Barnes was brought here in 2009 to stabilize the left tackle position before a broken ankle scuttled those plans? Barnes is a survivor and he has instead found life on the right side of the line, starting all 16 games at right tackle. They say an offensive lineman is best doing his job when you rarely notice him. Unfortunately for him, Barnes had a penchant for picking up penalties in waves. Were referees picking on him due to his reputation, or is there something more at work here?Stephon Heyer -- A locker room cutup in the mold of Barnes, Heyer could also provide steady play at virtually every spot on the offensive line save center. In fact, he started once at left guard when Wisniewski moved to center in place of the injured Satele. That was the night Michael Bush rumbled for 242 all-purpose yards in a primetime affair at San Diego on Nov. 10. As a team, the Raiders rushed for 191 yards against the Chargers. No wonder many thought Oakland was better served with Heyer at LG and Wisniewski at center.Joe Barksdale -- The Raiders' third-round draft pick out of LSU is the team's right tackle of the future and his play did nothing to dissuade that notion. He was active for all 16 games and was a fixture on "jumbo" packages. In fact, he often played on the interior. Barksdale, like Heyer and Barnes before him, is a light-hearted soul in the locker room and fancies himself a deep thinker in Cyberspace with his popular Blog. But on the field, he is all business.Bruce Campbell -- The true mystery of the line. An absolute physical specimen at 6-6, 315 pounds with off-the-charts measurables, Campbell was only active for four games. None since Oct. 9 at Houston. Then-coach Hue Jackson said Campbell, the Raiders' fourth-round draft pick in 2010, simply fell behind in training camp due to injury and never got up to speed with his competition on the line. Still, while Campbell was being groomed as the right guard of the future, he moved back to tackle during the season.