NAPA – Offensive guards are vital to the Raiders new offense. They’re required to pull and then push defenders, secure and then seal running lanes for rushers that get all the credit.
The Raiders came into camp with Lucas Nix on the left and Mike Brisiel on the right, presumptive starters that are anything but three weeks into camp.
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Nix has been injured and Brisiel’s underperformed, leaving those positions in flux when coach Dennis Allen would like them secured.
The offensive line has struggled on opposite sides of center Stefen Wisniewski, with little security at any of four vital positions.
Nix returned to practice on Tuesday, to re-engage in a position battle that Tony Bergstrom has owned since Nix succumbed to a knee injury early in camp.
Brisiel has given ground with recent play and health, which has allowed veteran Andre Gurode to excel in a spot where few thought he would be a factor.
Coach Dennis Allen wants to evaluate Brisiel when fully healthy and will give Nix a chance to regain his post over the next few weeks.
It’s uncertain whether either player gets back to the first team.
Nix believes he can, but realizes he has a long road back despite returning Tuesday after weeks on the mend.
“I came back out here today and already noticed that my footwork was a little off and a lot behind where it was when I got set back,” Nix said after Tuesday’s practice. “I can already tell that’s something I’m going to put individual work into before and after practice. Practice isn’t going to slow down so I can catch up.”
Coach Dennis Allen wants more power than Bergrstom has recently given, something that Nix believes he can provide.
Brisiel hasn’t provided much at right guard, and Allen is hoping that health can help the veteran play better. After a lifetime in a zone-blocking scheme the Raiders have abandoned, it’s uncertain whether Brisiel is a good fit for this offense.
While he hasn’t steadily played right guard in years, Andre Gurode has performed well blocking for the run and just might be an improvement over the incumbent.
“Andre has done fairly well,” Allen said. “Right guard was a position that we hadn’t worked him a whole lot at in training camp, and getting an opportunity to work in there has been good. Some guys are going to have to play more than one position. Having a guy like him at guard and center is a huge upside.”
That sounds like Gurode could be a backup at several spots. Brisiel will likely get another shot to start at right guard, but there’s little to suggest he’ll be able to own that spot.
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Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowl player at center, excelled playing right guard during the preseason opener. That was especially true against the run.
“It’s a spot where I feel comfortable, but I’m not in a spot where I can say where I should play,” Gurode said. “I’m happy to be here, happy to have an shot to play in this offense. Right guard works for me, and I’m comfortable playing there whenever the coaches want me to.”
The Raiders coaching staff needs guards that are in great shape and have great power. Guards are required to create gaps and control them, especially on the interior.
“There’s more physicality to this offense and I think that plays to my advantage, but at the same time I have to stay in it,” Nix said. “I’m getting back out here, getting my legs back under me and ready to make a late push through training camp. The goal is making gains everyday.”