Last season the Raiders interior line really looked like they had come into their own. But just like that, the Raiders are shifting out of the zone blocking scheme and back to a power blocking scheme. This means that there could be some big changes in this group.
Ever since the Raiders incorporated the zone blocking scheme, the emphasis has been on more athletic interior lineman. Stunts and downfield blocking require linemen who can get out of their stance quickly and push through defenders, maintaining a block deep into the defensive backfield. This scheme helped the Raiders have the second best rushing attack in the league last season.
Now the focus will be placed more on protecting the quarterback and dominating defenders straight up without stunts or trickery. It is a style that the Raiders of old executed with legendary ability but something the Raiders of late have struggled with, though there are a lot of positives about the play of this group that can be built upon.
LG Robert Gallery
He is the stalwart of this Raiders line. While he has out for several games each of the last two seasons due to injury, his absence usually acts as a reminder of how valuable he is to this team. While he never became the great left tackle the Raiders hoped when drafting him second overall in 2004, he has become a Pro Bowl caliber left guard. He is by far the best offensive lineman on this team. Gallery makes those around him better by recognizing the defense, always having his man, and often times assisting his line mates with their assignments. He is the one lineman of the group who is most likely to make the switch out of the zone blocking scheme seamlessly. Gallery is as big and powerful as he is athletic and the transition would not be an issue. The bad news is his contract is up, which would make him an unrestricted free agent and there is nothing to indicate the team is even close to re-signing him. I was of the mind that they would place the franchise tag on him. They may have intended to do so until they found out Kamerion Wimbley's contract voided his final season. So to ensure their best new player didn't get signed away after one season, they were forced to place the franchise tag on Wimbley instead. Some fear Gallery will follow former head coach Tom Cable to Seattle. If that happens, the Raiders could be in trouble.
C Samson Satele
Satele was my "Under the Radar Contributor" for last season. He quietly had a really nice year. There was no evidence of him getting handled by larger nose tackles which has long been his biggest criticism. He unveiled some new technique this year from what I could tell. It was a relentless aggressive style that kept defenders on their heels and off balance from the moment he snapped the ball. Unfortunately for Satele, he is the most likely casualty in the switch to the power blocking scheme. He was acquired because he is an ideal zone blocking lineman. His somewhat smaller, athletic frame gives him the edge in the zbs. He too is a free agent and unless he is willing to sign for something close to veteran minimum with the likelihood of being a backup, he will be allowed to leave as a free agent. It would benefit the Raiders greatly for him to stay because he would be an asset as a backup and mentor should the Raiders draft his replacement. But I would understand if he chooses to move on.
RG Cooper Carlisle
Carlisle has played in the zone blocking scheme nearly his entire career in the NFL. He was brought in from Denver a few years ago because of his experience in the scheme. Now he will be asked to transition out of that style after having played in it for so long. I really don't know how that will work itself out. He is the lone starting interior lineman who is under contract so he will be given the chance to show he can still perform at high level.
Brandon Loper really opened some eyes in last year's training camp and preseason with his fine guard play. He came in for Gallery at left guard early in the season and played decent then too. Loper played well enough to be the only reserve guard on the team through most of the season. The team was clearly not as good without Gallery there, but the coaches had enough confidence in Loper to say that if either Gallery or Carlisle went down with an injury, Loper was their guy. He was a pleasant surprise coming in as an otherwise unwanted free agent. If the team does lose Gallery, Loper is a serviceable replacement.
Bruce Campbell was last year's workout warrior and combine freak. Unfortunately, his technique, talent, and football intelligence have fallen behind. He didn't play a single snap in 2010 and was inactive for the last part of the season. Some believe his strengths are more suited for the power blocking scheme. That makes some sense based on the mere fact that power blocking is much simpler. But outside of that, I don't see why it would be easier for him. I will believe it when I see it. Luckily he was drafted in the fourth round so we shouldn't see Al Davis forcing Hue Jackson to put his investment on the field. Campbell will have to earn his shot.
Jared Veldheer was tried out at center in the preseason and started the first game of the season at that position. It was a shocking move that terribly backfired on Tom Cable. Veldheer was drafted as a left tackle and proved that is where he belongs. But the Raiders didn't go into the season with any other centers on the roster unless you count Jon Condo, the long snapper (who is also a linebacker and nowhere near big enough to play center). If Satele had become injured, Veldheer would have moved back to center and Veldheer would have been replaced at left tackle by former starter Mario Henderson. I do not expect this ever to be the case again. There is no chance the Raiders wouldn't bring in a center or at very least a guard who can play center if called upon.
With two free agent starters, a switch in systems, and no depth at center, the interior line could require some serious attention this offseason. And with the big checks being handed out lately to re-sign potential free agents, it is looking less and less likely they will be able to afford to bring in a quality free agent. That could mean the Raiders will finally look to the draft to improve the guard and/or center position. A round four or later selection, as Bruce Campbell was last year, is not going to cut it. He must be either a round two or round three selection.
Roster status: Desperate
See position analyses:
Safety I Linebacker I Cornerback I Defensive End I Defensive Tackle I Special Teams
Quarterback l Running Back l Wide Receiver l Tight End l Offensive Tackle
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