2010 Offensive Line Review

by Rick Drummond, Profootballfocus.com

It’s best to refer to this group as a work in progress. Unfortunately for the Raiders, it has been in that state for several seasons now.

In obvious need of an improvement over their 2009 output, the Raider O-line had to be overhauled. Recognizing that, the Raiders began the multi-season process by letting Cornell Green walk in free agency, selecting two linemen in the draft, and hiring a play-caller which freed Tom Cable to spend more time assisting with the line.

Four of 2009’s five regular starters returned for 2010 with Green’s former spot at right tackle being the only immediate opening. Langston Walker won that job in camp and held it all season. Khalif Barnes, who was also in the running for the vacated right tackle spot, settled in as the utility player, spending the majority of his time checking into the game as an extra lineman / tight end. Of the four returning starters, only Robert Gallery at left guard was viewed as a fixture, leaving the other three (Mario Henderson, Samson Satele, and Cooper Carlisle) looking over their shoulders.

Generally speaking, an offensive line improves based on a few factors: are they well coached? are they healthy and experienced enough to build cohesion as a unit? and simply, but most importantly, are they talented enough to perform in the manner asked of them?

Coaching:

The combined offensive line coaching credentials of Tom Cable and Jim Michalczik would surely have left no shortage of knowledge to be shared. Both are well-respected O-line leaders and have track records to support the notion that they can teach the game as it should be played at the line of scrimmage.

With his offensive plan, Hue Jackson did a fine job of setting up the O-line to succeed by creating ways to dictate defensive alignments: often by unbalancing the line and/or shifting strength pre-snap. Improving the screen game and dump-off options also served to soften fronts and take some heat off, while continued use of some zone blocking schemes took advantage of the strengths of the group.

Cohesion:


Gallery missed four starts due to injury, Satele sat out the opener in favor of rookie Jared Veldheer, and Henderson split time with Veldheer for five weeks before finally yielding his starting spot.

Carlisle played the most snaps of any other lineman and Walker missed one game while recovering from a concussion. The Veldheer-Gallery left side was locked in after Week 6 and from that point, the line enjoyed some stability, starting the same five for nine of the final 10 weeks.

Talent:


The talent level of this group isn’t easy to sum up in a few broad strokes. To oversimplify, they are better as a run-blocking unit than they are in pass protection. In fact, there were games in 2010 where their run blocking appeared to be some the best in the league. Consistency, though, was a concern.

There are no pro-bowl worthy players here, but there are players that can compete and, if they play to their ceiling, can form a strong unit. The 2010 season was a step in the right direction and this off season will be critical.

LT Jared Veldheer
Experience: 1 season, signed through: 2013
2010: 11 starts, 916 snaps (427 run / 489 pass), 42 QB disruptions allowed, 15 penalties
PFF grades: overall -24.7, run blocking -4.3, pass blocking -13.2


Veldheer’s rookie season was eventful. The 6’8” left tackle surprisingly slid over to start at center in Week 1. That experiment didn’t last as the staff apparently decided that one young player wasn’t going to fill two areas of need and it was more important to get his progress underway at left tackle.

His next five games were spent as part of a odd platoon on the left side with incumbent Mario Henderson. The two traded series at tackle during that span and Veldheer took over full time in Week 7. His first game as a starter at left tackle was probably his best of the year as the Raiders enjoyed an afternoon of running over a demoralized Denver defense.

On most game days, Veldheer was stronger in run blocking than in pass protection and for much of the season, he avoided the extreme highs and lows in performance that can plague an inexperienced player. For a rookie left tackle especially, showing any kind of flat line consistency is a good thing. He has work to do, but he took on some of the best pass rushers the NFL has to offer and seems capable of learning from those valuable experiences. His last two games in particular, facing Dwight Freeney and Tamba Hali, certainly gave him something to think about for the off-season.

Penalties were a problem for him – he led the team with 15 flags, but being a rookie on that backside edge, he wasn’t going to get any breaks. Veldheer looks to be locked in at left tackle for the foreseeable future. He does not appear over-matched physically or mentally as some may expect a third rounder from a small school to be. His ceiling may not be up there with best LT’s in the league, but there is no reason to think he won’t improve on his 2010 campaign. He compared well to the big name tackles that were drafted ahead of him which makes him quite the value pick and adds one more gold star onto the 2010 draft grade. Left tackle will be one spot the Raiders won’t have to hold try-outs for in 2011.

LG Robert Gallery
Experience: 7 seasons, signed through: FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 12 starts, 799 snaps (375 run / 424 pass), 21 QB disruptions allowed, 7 penalties
PFF grades: overall -5.8, run blocking +1.3, pass blocking -5.6


Once battling edge rushers and the bust label, Gallery’s primary foe now is injury. He missed four games in 2010 with a bad hamstring (suffered while hustling to chase down a DB after a pick in the opening game) and missed 10 games in 2009 due to appendicitis, a broken leg and back surgery. It’s a shame really that the most talented member of this line has had these issues to deal with.

Gallery showed again in 2010 what he was capable of: he could win one-on-one fights while run blocking, he could pull, he could get out onto linebackers and he could pick up stunts. He has the vision to recognize pass rush trouble to either side of him and the agility to get there to help. In the games where Veldheer lined up to his left, Raider fans saw glimpses of a tandem in the making.

Most importantly to the future of this line, Gallery is a vet, carries himself as one, and is an example of perseverance that can be inspiring. His presence provides some comfort for the kid next to him and his skill set is the most complete of any of the current Raider O-linemen. Gallery expressed his disappointment about Tom Cable’s departure, and if that is enough to cause Gallery himself to move on in free agency, it would hurt more than losing any other piece of this line.

C Samson Satele
Experience: 4 seasons, signed through: Restricted FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 15 starts, 1010 snaps (457 run / 553 pass), 15 QB disruptions allowed, 4 penalties
PFF grades: overall -4.8, run blocking -2.8, pass blocking -3.9


Satele is a limited player that struggles to locate targets in space and is unable to out-muscle the defensive tackles that line-up across from him. When first coming to the Raiders in 2009, he didn’t immediately take over the center job as hoped, but eventually settled into it. In 2010, the Raiders tried to replace him with Veldheer as the season began, but again Satele wound up with the job when Veldheer was called away.

Jake Grove was even brought in for a look during the season, but didn’t join the roster. It seems the center job has been Satele’s for two years now because of the lack of better options.

To be fair, Satele does hustle, is able to move well, and he did finish with a string of good games. Unfortunately for the Raiders, he just simply doesn’t get anything done on too many plays and is too often caught in the weird momentary lapse that directly follows each of his snaps.

Unfortunately for him, the Raiders have proven that starter-ready center talent can be had in the middle of the second round (Robbins, Grove). This could be a position where new faces appear before the next season begins.

RG Cooper Carlisle
Experience: 11 seasons, signed through: 2013
2010: 16 starts, 1122 snaps (513 run / 609 pass), 39 QB disruptions allowed, 7 penalties
PFF grades: overall -23.6, run blocking -17.1, pass blocking -8.5


Being the guy that never misses time has to mean something, right? I mean, he’s always there, every game, every snap. Though he frustrates fans at times, he doesn’t collect a pile of penalties, and really still does some things pretty well – he pulls effectively, and has a decent sense of what’s happening to either side of him … and, he may be the lone Raider regular on the O-line whose pass blocking in 2010 was significantly better than his run blocking (though that’s likely just because his run blocking was so bad.)

Carlisle’s problem is that at this point in his career you just don’t know what you are going to get from him from week to week. He had been one of the better Raider O-linemen in the previous two seasons, but his rough start in 2010 was followed by wild swings the rest of the way – a sign that his career is in fact winding down.

Carlisle remains under contract for 2011, but is expected to give way to Bruce Campbell (or another challenger.) He may stick as a reserve and fill the swing role for a season, but Al Davis’ recent comments in regards to his distaste for zone blocking could spell the end for Carlisle.

RT Langston Walker
Experience: 9 seasons, signed through: FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 15 starts, 995 snaps (470 run / 525 pass), 43 QB disruptions allowed, 7 penalties
PFF grades: overall -3.6, run blocking +12.0, pass blocking -14.7


Walker returned to the Raiders to fill in as a back-up late in the 2009 season after being released by Buffalo. Before the season ended, he had started two games at left guard in Gallery’s absence. During the 2010 camp, he was given shot at reclaiming his old position as the starting right tackle and took full advantage. Walker was named the starter again.

If the group as a whole is best characterized by being better run blockers than pass blockers, then Walker is their poster boy. He was among the best run blocking tackles in the NFL this season … and among the worst pass blockers. As good as he was at swallowing up defenders when making a push, he was equally bad at letting them get the upper hand against his pass set.

A huge part of his problems in protection was just a lack of “hustle ‘til the whistle”. Many times he had himself in good position only to let up early and lose track of his man. With tight ends and running backs chipping in, the damage was limited, but with a rookie on the other side, there wasn’t always enough help to go around and Walker just couldn’t be left on an island.

He’s scheduled to become a free agent and if the Raiders elect to let him walk again, he could be replaced by options currently on the roster (Henderson, Barnes) or by another free agent addition.

OT/TE Khalif Barnes
Experience: 6 seasons, signed through: FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 0 starts, 245 snaps (155 run / 90 pass), 6 QB disruptions allowed, 6 penalties
PFF grades: overall -5.4, run blocking 0.0, pass blocking -1.1


Barnes’ first season in Oakland was marked by rumors of his displeasure with a position switch from left tackle to right tackle after being “promised” the left side was his. He could have been less than excited about having to compete for the gig on the right this past offseason. To his credit (and the coaching staff’s), despite not winning that job, Barnes was made useful as an extra tackle / tight end and seemed to buy into the role.

His versatility – and the added leverage he enjoyed via his alignment – led to a unique and positive season, probably the one he’s enjoyed most since his early career in Jacksonville. He even caught a couple of passes, one for a touchdown.

The bottom line for Barnes is he was used to the best of his ability this season. With changes on the way, it’s not known if he’d be used in a similar fashion next season and asking more of him would likely bring unfavorable results. He’s due to become a free agent, but if he’s willing to accept a role like he had this season – if it exists – the Raiders could use him.

OT Mario Henderson
Experience: 4 seasons, signed through: Restricted FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 7 starts, 463 snaps (211 run / 252 pass), 13 QB disruptions allowed, 4 penalties
PFF grades: overall -4.6, run blocking -7.4, pass blocking -4.4

Not far removed from being the future of the left tackle position in Oakland, Henderson watched the Raiders draft not one, but two left tackles last April. One of them was shuffled off to the other side of the line right away, but Veldheer stuck and was going to get an opportunity to take Henderson’s job. The kid showed skill and tenacity and it wasn’t long before he drew even with Mario and was splitting time.

It had to be a painful ride for Henderson, seeing the draft, watching Veldheer in camp, and then having to share game reps with his obvious successor. By Week 7, Henderson was a full time reserve – no grumbling, no sulking, but he was no longer part of the starting five.

Ironic that following his 2009 season in which he was one of the worst pass blocking left tackles in the game, Henderson was boosted by the competition and improved, but lost the job. He never showed up as an option at right tackle during the season, but did make one start there when Walker couldn’t go. If he stays in Oakland, look for him to get a shot at starting opposite Veldheer in 2011.

OG Daniel Loper
Experience: 6 seasons, signed through: FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 4 starts, 306 snaps (134 run / 172 pass), 10 QB disruptions allowed, 0 penalties
PFF grades: overall -5.4, run blocking -2.5, pass blocking -4.4

Loper was picked up in May and was a mild surprise to make the final roster. He was purely filling a reserve spot, but was needed to start four games at left guard while Gallery nursed his hamstring. He was left off of the active list in six of the last seven weeks of the season. A serviceable player, but Loper is no threat to make significant contribution going forward. He’ll likely not be asked back.

OG Bruce Campbell
Experience: 1 season, signed through: 2013
2010: 0 starts, 10 snaps (10 run / 0 pass), 0 QB disruptions allowed, 0 penalties
PFF grades: overall -0.1, run blocking -0.1, pass blocking -0.0

Campbell played 10 snaps on offense, all late in the blowout in Denver, all run plays. His conversion from left tackle to right guard is apparently taking a while, but it is encouraging that the plan hasn’t been scrapped – he must be showing some signs that he could be a fit there. Campbell was inactive in Week 1 and then again for the final five games.

No one outside of those on the practice field got a look at him, so it’s impossible to know where he stands right now. What we do know is, he’s under contract, he’s a physical freak, and he’ll be given every chance to grow into a position on this line. Some have him penciled in as the starting right guard next season, if that does happen, it may not be from the outset.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized
  • DARK KUSH

    Good write up! i have a couple of disagreements though.

    Allowing 10 sacks in 11 games and 15 penalties cannot be solely blamed on being a rookie from a small school. this is not acceptable for Veldheer if he's going to be our cornerstone LT. Remember Henderson's aloud sacks for the couple of years? we said he'll blossom… hasn't happened yet has it? I think he's the younger version of Gallery, same prototype and arm length… too small to be a LT.

    do you really think he's going to JURASTICALLY improve over one season? no i think not. Can Al, the coaches, or the fans wait that long? NO. we need a great answer NOW!

    Veldheer is a talented guy, no question. that's why he should take over for Gallery when he follows Cable to SEA coming up pretty soon here or at RT.

    The reason i say this is because Hue and Saunders will most likely bring in Jared Gaither as a FA from BAL. they both worked with him, and have a good relationship with the man from what i understand… and Gaither IS THE REAL DEAL… and still very young. personal problems? maybe a little. does it really matter though? the man allowed 5 sacks in years and minimal penalties in that time frame. NOW THATS TALENT you cannot teach… he's 6'9 340 … Al's type of guy.

    I agree with drafting a Center. Wisnewski should be at the top of Al's list. He will attempt to move up to get him, guaranteed. i'm guessing with NE, they own the 1st pick overall in the 2nd round … that would be a good spot to snag him as i'm sure he won't go down much further than that.

  • Rick Drummond

    Thanks for reading and for the comment DK.

    I don't think any of his issues were to be blamed solely on the sizable leap in competition he made, though he does get some slack in my book for handling it as well as he did.

    Will he improve? yes, I am sure he will. Will he turn into one of the best in the league? It's a long road from where he is to the Top 10 LT's neighborhood, so that may be asking too much.

    In the event that an established stud is brought in, a move to the other side would make sense. I wouldn't count Gaither as a lock though. He does have a relationship with the new Raider staff, but Baltimore knows what they have in him and will put up a fight to keep him. If they do let him get away, the back injury that kept him out for the entire season is a worry as well. Even before all of that, he's still a restricted free agent as of now, so unless that changes, he still has to be considered a Raven for 2011.

    For what it's worth, comparing Veldheer to the tackles that were drafted ahead of him and played this year:

    (total pressures allowed (sacks+QBhits+pressures), pass protection snaps, pct, penalties)

    1.06 LT Okung: 20/376, 5.3%, 3
    2.01 LT Saffold: 39/625, 6.2%, 9
    1.23 RT Bulaga: 41/599, 6.9%, 11
    1.04 LT Williams: 46/584, 7.9%, 6
    3.05 LT Veldheer: 41/489, 8.4%, 15
    1.11 RT Davis: 59/588, 10.0%, 11

    He obviously wasn't the best of the group, but considering his draft slot, I think he measured up pretty well.

    Also, love the idea of Wisniewski in the second round. He's the one I've had my eye on too (though I am not all that familiar yet with many of the options.)

Twitter