This offseason one of the biggest question marks was the offensive line. The Raiders had a few suspect positions and it appeared the team had lost much more than they gained in personnel. But as it turns out, that looks not to be the case. Two of the most important additions are assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski and his nephew Stefen, whom the Raiders chose with their top draft pick.
The Raiders drafted Stefen with thoughts of him being the Raiders' next great center. But he did not progress the way the coaching staff had hoped, and it was decided that incumbent starter Samson Satele returning at the position was the best choice.
But while Stefen was not able to beat out Satele at center, he was able to beat out the guy whom the Raiders had signed in the offseason to replace former starter Robert Gallery at left guard. In fact, Wiz kid made Loper expendable entirely, and the Raiders waived him in the last round of cuts.
Stefen played at both center and guard at Penn State and many thought he made a better guard than he did a center. Thus far, that is proving to be the case.
There is nothing at all wrong with Stefen excelling at guard instead of center. It is actually a position the Raiders are quite used to having a Wisniewski play. Stefen's uncle Steve was an All Pro left guard for the Raiders and now he is not only following in his uncle's footsteps but getting mentored by his uncle along the way.
Stefen is quick to recognize his coaching as a reason for his and his linemates' solid play this season.
"I think a lot of it has to do with coaching. Coach Wylie and Coach Wisniewski are doing a great job getting us all on the same page, and the techniques they're teaching us are really paying off, and I think everyone's really bought into what they're teaching, and we're just really working together well. We're communicating well, kinda got a good camaraderie going between us."
I would be remiss if I did not mention the job that offensive line coach Bob Wylie is doing with this group. Wylie has been able to have the kind of success with this offensive line that former head coach and offensive line coach Tom Cable never could.
Under Cable, the Raiders ran a zone blocking scheme and that scheme typically favors the running backs. However, Darren McFadden was never able to break out for the Raiders. It wasn't really until the team began shifting back to the power blocking scheme that McFadden began to thrive. Now he is enjoying having these blockers in front of him as much as they enjoy blocking for him.
"It's fun," says Stefen Wisniewski. "Shoot, you block [McFadden] for two seconds and you look and he's 50 yards downfield. It makes our job easy. Sometimes we make him look good, we open a big hole, and other times we miss a couple of people but he makes us look good anyway. So it works out well for everybody."
The confidence of this offensive line is extremely high after they have been able to block for McFadden to lead the league with 393 yards rushing over the first three games. They are also pretty proud of only giving up two sacks on Jason Campbell.
I asked Stefen if he has been surprised at how well the offensive line is playing this season.
"Nah, this is what we expected," he replied. "We know what we have here. Coach Jackson has been talking that we know what we gave, we believe in ourselves and it was just a matter of trying to get everyone else to see that, and this was a first step towards that and next week against the Patriots will be another step towards that."
When Steve Wisniewski retired back in 2001, it seemed like the end of an era of Hall of Fame caliber left guard play. That era appears to have begun again with another Wisniewski. A new generation of fans will have the pleasure of watching a Wisniewski plow the way along the offensive line for the Raiders.
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