NASHVILLE, Tenn. -– Raiders offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom always prepares to start, even though it doesn’t happen much.
He went two-and-a-half full seasons between them, a wide expanse bookended by the 2012 season finale and a Nov. 15 quarrel with Minnesota.
His latest was his first at center, made with Rodney Hudson sidelined with a sprained right ankle. He was doubtful that week, and wasn’t deemed fit for duty on game day.
Hudson’s in a similar predicament this week. He is doubtful after aggravating his ankle against the Detroit Lions. His availability is suspect at best. Hudson is not expected to play Sunday at the Tennessee Titans, leaving Bergstrom as the next man up.
Bergstrom received strong reviews for his Vikings effort, and considers himself better for the experience.
“There’s no amount of practice that can equal game experience,” Bergstrom said. “There’s something unique to being in the thick of it, applying what you’ve learned and adjusting on the fiy.”
The Raiders were confident in Bergstrom after watching him prepare each week despite minimal odds of entering the fray.
“Tony is always ready,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “Even when Rodney was playing each and every play, Tony was putting the time in, watching all the film on his iPad, being in the meetings, doing his film work. He’s been ready for this opportunity, so now that he’s stepped in, we all have complete confidence in what he can do.
"He's very sharp on his feet. Physically, he has got good balance, good footwork. He’s a heck of an athlete.”
That’s why general manager Reggie McKenzie use his first-ever draft pick on Bergstrom in the third round of the 2012 draft. He was brought in as a zone-blocking guard, a solid fit for a scheme that lasted a single season. Bergstrom missed all of 2013 with a broken foot, and was inactive throughout 2014 because he wasn't a hulking guard a power-based gap scheme prefers.
Bergstrom stands 6-foot-5, 315 pounds. That’s big, yet far lighter than 330-plus-pound guards Gabe Jackson and J’Marcus Webb. Fighting to keep his job this preseason, Bergstrom switched to center and won the job as Hudson’s backup.
He studied hard during his offseason crash course, a cram session designed to master a center’s diverse responsibilities. That includes proper alignment and pressure identification. Quarterback Derek Carr is here to help in that regard, but Bergstrom still has to protect the pocket and create rushing lanes.
“Tony always battles,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I think that, just like Rodney, he cares about me not getting touched or letting his guy hit the ball carrier. I think that he’s very smart. I think that he’s very smart and that’s something that you have to have at center.
“It stinks, like we’ve always said, that Rodney would get hurt. That’s hard for everybody, for anybody to get hurt, but we’re very confident in Tony and what he can do, because he has played well in this role before.”
Bergstrom will have his hands full with a creative Titans pass rush coordinated by Ray Horton and Dick LeBeau. That unit has 31 sacks in 10 games and four players with 4.5 sacks or more.
“We’ll watch every second of film we can’t and we’ll evaluate the scheme from every angle, but we still know we’ll get some un-scouted looks,” Bergstrom said. “That’s the nature of the business, especially against this team. We have a lot of respect for those guys and their creativity. Our goal is to be ready for anything, but sometimes you just have to make it work.”