ALAMEDA – Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski was the glue that held an injury-riddled offensive line together. Without him, things began to fall apart.
That was crystal clear Oct. 13 against Kansas City, when the offensive line was porous at best.
Wisniewski watched that game from the couch while rehabbing a knee sprain suffered Sept. 29 versus Washington, unable to help or support or change the outcome of a game headed down the drain.
“I’m thinking I wish I was out there,” Wisniewski said. “That was about it. It was tough.”
Odds are great Wisniewski won’t go through a similar experience Sunday. The third-year pro practiced Wednesday after missing two games and nine straight practices. He was limited – a customary designation on an injured player’s first day back – but, barring a setback, is expected to play Sunday against Pittsburgh.
“I think that’s huge,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I think what he means to our offensive line, the type of player he is and his intelligence level helps us with a lot of the communication not only in protection schemes, but also in the run game. I think having him back out there is a big boost for us.”
That’s especially true against a complex Steelers pass rush. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is as creative as anybody, leaving offenses guessing who will blitz.
“Communication is going to be critical against this defense and making sure we can identify where the rushers are coming from,” Allen said. “Wiz has done a great job of that for us all year long, so it’s good to have him back out there.”
Wisniewski makes those around him better by helping put them in position to succeed. He’s excellent at identifying pass rushers and setting up proper protections. That in turn helps a young quarterback learning on the job.
“I don’t have to worry about much in protection because I know Wiz is going to see it,” quarterback Terrelle Pryor said. “If a corner or a safety comes up I will say something, but Wiz will handle anything in the box. He’s always on top of that stuff. I can go back to focusing on the play and the coverage.”
That isn’t a knock on Wisniewski’s replacements. It’s just that few analyze a defense better from the center spot. He tried to stay involved during three weeks, yet was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t help struggling teammates.
“I was doing my best to coach when I wasn’t in there,” Wisniewski said. “Guys have done a great job learning different spots and being able to play different positions. We have a lot of different schemes, especially in the run game, so it’s not an easy thing to be on the same page with guys moving around. But, I think it’s a testament to how hard guys are working and how much they’re studying that they were able to stay on the same page with things.”