The offensive line has been, far and away, the greatest weakness of the 2013 Raiders. Because of chronic injuries, the team has been forced to start more offensive line combinations than anyone else in the NFL, and it has shown in recent weeks. The team has been underrated in terms of run blocking (the Raiders rank 3rd in the league in yards per attempt), but its pass blocking has been some of the worst in the league. With Wednesday’s practice, it is starting to look like the team may finally be improving along the line.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer and right tackle Tony Pashos both returned to practice today, which should significantly improve a struggling line within the next few weeks. It is likely that Veldheer will be eased back into game action since this is the first time he has taken the field since tearing his tricep in the preseason, but Pashos is expected to immediately take over again at right tackle. This is extremely welcome news for the Silver and Black, as the rotating group of Lamar Mady, Matt McCants, and Menelik Watson are too raw to be consistent contributors. Watson did well enough in his first start at right tackle for the Raiders, but he is much better suited in his new role as a backup left and right tackle. Barnes struggled significantly last week with a number of key penalties and allowing significant pressure on an injured Terrelle Pryor, but he and Pashos held their own as an emergency line early in the season.
If the line continues to improve in health, it is possible that Tony Sparano may move some of the sudden depth at tackle into the struggling guard positions. Lucas Nix, by some accounts, has been one of the worst players in the entire NFL and has been having a historically awful season at guard. He improved some against the Giants, but it has been a bit painful anticipating any defensive lineman to blow through the line. It is reasonable to expect Andre Gurode, who is also close to practicing and being fully healthy, taking over this guard spot upon his return.
With Matt McGloin likely starting for the Raiders on Sunday, a clean pocket will do wonders for Oakland’s chances at winning. Oakland still seems a few weeks away from being 100% healthy along the line, but it is very encouraging to see any signs of progress.