Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp. The full squad will report on July 23, with the first practice day scheduled for July 25. This morning, Scott focuses on the offensive line.
Who they have: OT/G Khalif Barnes, G Lamar Mady, T Matt McCants, G Lucas Nix, OT Menelik Watson, C Stefen Wisniewski, G/OT Austin Howard, G Kevin Boothe, OT Donald Penn, G Tony Bergestrom, OT Jack Cornell, OT Jarrod Shaw, OT Dan Kistler, OT Erle Ladson, G Gabe Jackson
Who they lost: RG Mike Brisiel, G/C Andre Gurode, T Tony Pashos, T Jared Veldheer
Looking back: The offensive line was ravaged by injury last season. Veldheer was lost for most of the 2013 campaign, as was Bergstrom and Watson. That left the Raiders longing for consistency along the offensive front, something they never got during a 4-12 campain. Wisniewski held the line together with duct tape, fielding different units nearly each week to keep things going. Barnes was a stalwart, moving to left tackle and eventually left guard for team interests. … Brisiel was a workhorse last season when all went well, but his high 2014 salary prompted his release.
Overall outlook: The Raiders are bigger and certainly stronger up front this season. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano values versatility, and the Raiders have plenty of it with OT/Gs Howard, Barnes and Boothe. Wisniewski remains the offensive brain trust, but he has strength on both sides with a newcomer in Penn and a rejuvenated Watson. The Raiders are surprisingly deep up front, so they can survive an injury plague that decimated them last season. Offensive line play will be crucial to a run-first attack built for power, and the Raiders have the size and strength to be effective.
Camp competition: Watson’s health and effectiveness will be key. He missed most of last season due to injury, but the second-round draft pick is back and ready to assume a large role in this offense. If he can’t handle it, Howard must switch from right tackle to right guard, which weakens the unit considerably. … Expect Jackson to push Barnes for the starting spot at left guard. Jackson made every start at Mississippi St. and seems ready to continue that in the pros. … Bergstrom and Nix could be casualties of depth and must fight to make the squad, especially with McCants and Mady in the coaches’ good graces.