Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp, which opens on July 31.
Who they have: T Dan Kistler, T Anthony Morris, T Donald Penn, T Menelik Watson, T Austin Howard, G/T Matt McCants, G J’Marcus Webb, OL Mitch Bell, G/T Khalif Barnes, G/C Tony Bergstrom, OL Quinterrius Eatmon, G Jon Feliciano, G Gabe Jackson, G Lamar Mady, C Rodney Hudson
Who they lost: C Stefen Wisniewski, G/C Kevin Boothe
Looking back: The Raiders offensive line was a team strength last season, though not entirely invincible. They were solid in pass protection, effective enough against the rush to allow quarterback Derek Carr to survey the field and be mobile if necessary. The running game, however, was the NFL’s worst. While running backs hindered that effort, some blame falls on blocking.
It’s tough to blame anything on the line’s left side. Tackle Donald Penn and guard Gabe Jackson formed a ferocious tandem than held opponents at bay. The right side, however, never seemed set. Austin Howard struggled in his move from right tackle to right guard. The right tackle spot never seemed set, with a mix of Menelik Watson and Khalif Barnes on that side.
Center Stefen Wisniewski played hurt near season’s end, but was average throughout the course of the season.
Overall outlook: The Raiders invested big money in the center position, adding elite talent Rodney Hudson in free agency. Outside of that, the Raiders have similar personnel problems to a year ago. Penn and Jackson have the left side locked up, but the right side remains in flux. There is no clear-cut starter at right guard or right tackle, making for interesting competition in training camp.
New offensive line coach Mike Tice has a track record of success coaching the position, and should bring zeal to blocking efforts. The Raiders are committed to improving against the run, something that will be in focus early this year. The line is physically imposing and, if stability can be found on the right, this group could be a real force.
Camp competition: Starting spots at right guard and right tackle remain up for grabs. Watson and Howard –- he was moved back to tackle by the new coaching staff –- will duke it out for a starting spot. Right now, it’s a dead heat.
Converted tackle J’Marcus Webb, Barnes and rookie Jon Feliciano will compete at right guard. The Raiders hope Feliciano, a fourth-round pick from Miami, can take control in camp as Jackson did a year ago. They’d prefer Barnes be a utility player. Webb took some first-team reps in the offseason program, and is a wild card in this race.
Bottom line: Front office and coaching staff agree that offensive line play is the foundation of success, which is why the Raiders have invested draft picks and significant free-agent dollars in this unit. Penn, Jackson and Hudson are Pro-Bowl caliber players. Howard has been a strong tackle with other teams, and should earn a starting spot. The team has to get that right guard spot shored up somehow to solidify this unit.