Scott Bair's Raiders Breakdowns: Offensive Line
Last year the offensive line paved the way for the fifth-worst rushing attack in the NFL. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Second-round pick Menelik Watson stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 320 pounds. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
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 24, with the first practice day scheduled for July 26. Today, Scott focuses on the offensive line.
Who they have: OTs Jared Veldheer, Willie Smith, John Wetzel, Khalif Barnes, Menelik Watson and Alex Barron, OGs Tony Bergstrom, Mike Brisiel, Jason Foster, Lucas Nix and Lamar Mady and Cs Stefen Wisniewski, Alex Parsons and Andre Robiskie.
Who they lost: OG Cooper Carlisle
Looking back: The Raiders offensive line didn’t fit the zone-blocking scheme installed by coordinator Greg Knapp and line coach Frank Pollack. The experiment failed, and both coaches were fired as a result. The running game never took off -– Darren McFadden had a career-worst 3.3 yards per carry –- and the scheme became the scapegoat. The line deserves a share of the blame for that failure. Individually, however, Veldheer and Wisniewski provided hope for the future. Veldheer had a strong season at left tackle, giving up just five sacks and three quarterback hits all season long.
Overall outlook: The Raiders offensive line could be vastly improved this year. New coordinator Greg Olson has reverted the Raiders back to a power-blocking scheme, which fits the talent of this unit. While scheme change was vital, the addition of position coach Tony Sparano is equally important. He’s well respected as a line coach and a running-game coordinator, and should help maximize his talent. Veldheer and Wisniewski will again lead the line. Bergstrom must perform in his first season as a starter and the right side needs to shore up during camp to operate at its highest level.
Camp competition: The battle at right tackle is one to keep an eye on during camp. Incumbent starter Barnes will be challenged by Watson. The second-round pick is an intriguing prospect with tremendous athleticism and a massive frame and should play if he can master the scheme during camp. He only started one year and Florida State and got into football late in life, so he’s less experienced than most rookies despite being 24. Brisiel and Nix will compete to be the starting right guard. Brisiel was imported last year to be a zone blocker, and is a poor fit for the new scheme. That gives the 317-pound Nix a chance to win the job with a strong camp.