Fifth in a series analyzing Raiders position groups with a contingent of scouts and coaches in Indianapolis at the scouting combine:
Starters: LT Mario Henderson, LG Robert Gallery, C Samson Satele, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Cornell Green. Backups: T Khalif Barnes, T-G Erik Pears, G Brandon Rodd, C-G Chris Morris, T-G Langston Walker.
Review: More than the bad publicity from anything that allegedly happened off the field or in a Napa hotel room with Randy Hanson, the play of the Raiders line is the reason why Tom Cable was left twisting in the wind, his job “under evaluation” rather than the sort of backing Rob Ryan got when his demise was supposedly imminent following the 2007 season.
The Raiders ran the ball poorly (21st in rushing) had seven rushing touchdowns (only the Rams and Bucs had fewer) and had the third highest sack total in the league (49) despite ranking 26th in pass attempts (485).
As bad as JaMarcus Russell was, and he deserves much of the blame for his performance, the fact that he was playing behind a line that couldn’t run and couldn’t protect made it unlikely to pull out of his tailspin and contributed to his issues with confidence and accuracy. Things got better when Bruce Gradkowski came aboard, but he couldn’t last the season because of _ you guessed it _ knee injuries sustained against a pass rush.
Cable virtually shoved line coach Jim Michalczik aside for a time attempting to right the ship, to no avail.
It didn’t help matters any Gallery, their best lineman, had a Triple Crown of surgeries (appendectomy, broken fibula, back) and played in only six games.
Henderson started the season OK but regressed as it went along. Green’s hold on right tackle and Cable’s glowing reviews of his play have been a three-year mystery. Morris is suited for short stints of a game or two as a sub at all inside spots but struggles if he starts more than two games in succession. Carlisle was the Raiders best lineman in 2007 but has not approached that level in the past two seasons.
Barnes came to Oakland to jump-start his career but is still waiting by the side of the road, hood open, waiting for a tow truck. Pears did his best work as an emergency tight end in the running game. As for his play on the line, Denver let Pears go last season without tendering him a contract and he did nothing with the Raiders to suggest the Broncos were wrong in their assessment.
Walker was a late-season addition and actually ended up doing some good things as a guard at 362 pounds. Rodd has been a practice squad player.
Contract status: Morris is a restricted free agent, Green and Walker unrestricted free agents.
What’s next: Lots of change, unless Cable is of a mind that he can coach up the same cast and come up with a different result. Good Raiders teams are built along the line, and this was the worst line since the 2006.
You keep Gallery and hope he stays healthy. Every other position ought to be looked at. Draft analyst Mike Mayock thinks the Raiders at No. 8 will come away with one of the four top tackles in the draft _ Oklahoma’s Russell Okung, Oklahoma State’s Trent Williams, Rutgers’ Anthony Davis and Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga.
Maryland’s Bruce Campbell is at this point considered a reach at No. 8, but had a gold medal performance in the Indianapolis Underwear Olympics, (4.78 time in the 40-yard dash, 34 reps with 220 pounds on the bench press). A year ago, his former Terrapins teammate, Darrius Heyward-Bey, was similarly impressive and you know how that turned out.
It remains to be seen whether Cable will strictly adhere to the zone blocking principles he believes in, or if Hue Jackson’s control of the offense as coordinator includes power blocking schemes like the Ravens ran in Baltimore.
The way they chose to attack will determine which players the Raiders pursue in free agency and the draft.