The tackle position for the Raiders is in flux at the moment. Then again, it always seems to be in flux on one side of the line or the other. The Raiders have had issues at the tackle positions for the better part of the past decade. Yet the only time they have made a concerted effort to remedy the problem was when they drafted Robert Gallery number two overall in the 2004 draft. With that experiment failing, there has yet to be a solid, long term solution.
Last season the Raiders’ offensive line was bookended by their longest tenured offensive lineman and a rookie. It was a microcosm of the Raiders past at the tackle position, and of their future. Or what they hope will be their future. Now let’s take a look at the present.
LT Jared Veldheer
Veldheer came in halfway through his rookie season to supplant former starter Mario Henderson as the starting left tackle. He had his struggles along the way but all indications are that he is shaping up to be just what the Raiders had hoped he would be when they drafted him in round three. He came out of little Hillsdale College in Michigan so he rarely, if ever, had to face top flight defenders. But throughout his college and high school career, he never gave up a single sack. That does not go unnoticed regardless of where you play. He understandably struggled early in the season, not only because of the shocking shift from Hillsdale to the NFL, but because the Raiders moved him to center in the preseason. He is quite intelligent and the mere fact that he could start at center in week one and take the left tackle job outright five weeks later shows that. He is firmly entrenched at the left tackle with no plans to introduce any competition for the job.
RT Langston Walker
He came into last season in an open competition for the starting right tackle position with Khalif Barnes. Barnes got hurt in training camp and Langston took the opportunity to hold on to the job. Walker was drafted by the Raiders in round two of the 2002 draft out of Cal. He started 17 games over his first four seasons before starting every game at right tackle in 2006. That year the Raiders offensive line was among the worst anyone had ever seen. The Raiders finished with two wins and Walker was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Bills. He started every game over two seasons in Buffalo. Then the Bills tried to shift him to left tackle and he was so bad, he didn’t make the cut heading into the 2009 season. The Raiders signed him midseason and by season’s end, he had his old right tackle job back. He started all 16 games last season and is seen as a bit of a weak link on the Raiders’ line. Overall, he is a serviceable right tackle.
Mario Henderson had a season and a half of fine football as the Raiders starting left tackle. But after that it all seemed to fall apart for him. What teams figured out is that they don’t need to have an inside move on him. Division foes like Tamba Hali and Elvis Dumervil teed off on Mario when they realized that if they just speed rush the edge, they can get to the quarterback consistently. He started the season at left tackle and shared the position with Veldheer until week six when the job was given to Veldheer outright. The Raiders are hoping a shift to the right side will solve Henderson’s issues with the speed rush. He played at right tackle a couple of times last season. On those occasions, he did not look good. Henderson starred at right tackle in college at Florida State and the Raiders converted him to left tackle. They are hoping that after a season transitioning back, he can begin proving his worth on the right side. Best case scenario is that he takes the starting right tackle job. He will be given every opportunity to do so. He should at very least provide much needed depth at the position.
Khalif Barnes was utilized as an extra tackle quite often last season. It seemed every time the Raiders were in the red zone you would hear the officials say “number 69 has reported as eligible” which freed him up to either help protect Jason Campbell’s blindside or go out for a pass. He caught two passes last season for a total of eight yards and a touchdown. A favorite joke was that Barnes had just as many touchdown catches as the Raiders’ number one wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey — and Barnes had just as many issues too. He seemed to false start with clockwork regularity. Usually, the official barely got the words out that he was eligible before the next words: “False start, number 69, offense…” Four yards per catch on two catches will certainly not make up for the five yards he lost nearly every time he entered a game. Remember two seasons ago when Barnes tried unsuccessfully to squeeze a big money free agent contract out of Al Davis only to come back after getting no other offers and take a one year deal? History is fun.
At this moment, the closest thing the Raiders have as a certainty is Jared Veldheer. It is a sad state when a still unproven rookie is the closest thing a team has to a sure thing at a position as vital as offensive tackle. All we know is that the Raiders will not be looking to replace Veldheer this offseason. But Langston Walker on the other side is far from certain and neither is the depth. Henderson may or may not pan out and it looks as if Barnes’ time in Oakland is done. They need some depth at very least, with some upgrades as well.
Roster status: Weak
Also 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 Guard/Center
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