Headed into the second week of training camp, I absolutely love hearing Mychael Rivera, David Ausberry, Rod Streater, and other skill players are establishing chemistry with new quarterback Matt Schaub. On defense, I have enjoyed reading about the secondary accepting the challenge of filling in for injured defensive backs, and I love hearing about our pass rush getting stranger with Woodley, Mack and Tuck.
However, the group that most needs a strong training camp is our offensive line. Linemen usually do not shine in off season activities, but now that the pads are on that should change.
Last season, we remember how devastated our team was once Jared Veldheer went down for most of the season. Our offensive line was in shambles having Khalif Barnes playing out of position, as well as late adds like Tony Pashos and Matt McCants becoming unexpected contributors. Combined with Mike Briesel and Lucas Nixx at offensive guard and there is no question why our offensive line is having such a drastic turnover.
With so much turnover it is vital that the Raiders offensive line establish a continuity. Whatever the Raiders intend to do on offense realizes on the offensive line setting the tone. Rather it is utilizing Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew in the running game, or keeping Matt Schaub upright throwing the ball, the offensive line needs to dominate.
Reggie McKenzie brought in mid market starters Austin Howard and Donald Penn to establish a powerful offensive line capable of setting the tone. Added with young players Manelik Watson and Gabe Jackson in the mix the Raiders should have a good combination of youth and experience. Khalif Barnes and Kevin Boothe are also two savy veterans fighting for their livelihood, so the group looks to be bigger, stronger, and more experienced. Yet with Howard changing positions, and Penn fighting to prove he is not washed up, the group faces much adversity entering camp.
NFL Defenses are becoming more versatile and complex, so it is important to have an offensive line with continuity. Offensive lines have non verbal and verbal communication to represent defenses’ stunts and blitzes. Moreover, there has to be a feeling of trust in the guy playing next to you. As someone who once played offensive line at a small level, I understand you have to feel the linemen capable of you can hold his down block. You have to believe that he knows his assignment as you pass him a double team or a blitzing assignment. Hence, more than any group the offensive line needs to work simultaneously as a unit, so that the skill guys around them can make plays.
The Raiders face the toughest schedule including the tough Seahawks’ defense, and an improved Broncos’ defense. Playing last year’s Superbowl teams along with many other talented teams means the Raiders offensive line will have the task of keeping the opposing team off the field. The Raiders need their offensive to click this season, so Greg Olsen and the offense have the liberty to call whatever plays necessary.
Hence I want to see this group growing together. I want to see the offensive line handling their own defenses’ best stunts and blitzes. I want to see the offensive linemen finishing blocks, running hard on screens and passes, as well as lining up quick while limiting penalties. Raider fans remember the frustration a holding or false start brings to our drives in our past few seasons. Moreover, the group needs to stay healthy and on the field.
Before the Raiders play any team on Sunday, they begin their quest for winning in training camp. It is the first step in the journey of the NFL season, and no position group needs a great camp more than the Raiders’ offensive line. If the offensive line can limit penalties, learn assignments, and compete everyday then the rest of the team should be able to feed off the energy of the revamped group.