The Oakland Raiders were long overdue for a complete rebuild of their offensive line. After years of going back and forth with the Buffalo Bills to see who could put together the worst line in the league, the Raiders went out and gorged themselves on massive linemen this offseason. They brought in four new linemen, Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe via free agency, as well as third round draft pick Gabe Jackson. All four guys will immediately compete for starting jobs.
After Jared Veldheer — only their best offensive lineman and possibly their best player overall — signed with the Cardinals, Reggie McKenzie did his best to make everyone forget about that loss. Penn is the favorite to replace Veldheer. While he isn’t an upgrade, the upgrades across the rest of the line more than make up for the drop-off at left tackle.
The biggest problem along the offensive line in 2013 was the interior. The tackle play was nothing special, but the guards were especially pathetic. Lucas Nix received the worst grade for a guard in the history of Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Mike Brisiel continued to struggle in a power blocking scheme at the other guard position. Both linemen will be replaced, as Jackson, Howard, Boothe and Khalif Barnes will all compete for the two guard positions. No matter who wins, it will represent a big upgrade to the line.
Stefen Wisniewski is likely to be the only returning starter. The nephew of former Raider great Steve Wisniewski looks like he will be the anchor of the offensive line for years to come and is likely looking forward to playing next to much more talented players this year. Assuming Kevin Boothe does not win a starting job at a guard position, he will back up not just the guards but also Wisniewski at center.
At tackle, the Raiders will have primarily three guys competing for the two spots: Penn, Howard and Menelik Watson. Barnes and Matt McCants will also be in the mix but do not have much of a chance to win starting spots. The most likely tandem of bookends to start the season are Penn and Watson. Assuming Watson can stay healthy, he could end up being one of, if not the best offensive linemen on the Raiders this season. Penn is getting older and is not as good as he used to be, but he has a ton of starting experience and if nothing else should be good in the run game where the Raiders want to focus their offense.
Regardless of the combination of players, the Raiders will end up with four new starters on the offensive line this season. Not only that, it’s shaping up to be a rather massive offensive line with multiple guys weighing in at over 330 lbs. It’s clear the Raiders want to bully defensive lines in the trenches and win from the inside out. A new offensive line is long overdue, but the one they’re assembling looks like it could be the best in a decade for the Silver and Black.
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