Training camp preview: Offensive line

With training camp a week away, it’s time to take a look at how some of the positions around the team are shaping up.

On a roster with so much turnover, the offensive line certainly doesn’t fall short of a large remodel. In fact, offensive line coach Tony Sparano may only have one returning starting offensive lineman – center Stefen Wisniewski.

Wisniewski is a solid center and a key piece of the Raiders offensive line. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and the front office went out and signed veteran offensive lineman Austin Howard to a five-year deal to fill in at right guard, which prompted the release of veteran Mike Brisiel who had a less-than-memorable tenure with Oakland.

At right tackle, the Raiders are seemingly relying on second-year tackle Menelik Watson. Watson was taken in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft but only appeared in five games (three starts) due to a nagging calf injury. Watson appears to be fully healthy heading into camp this season and ready to battle for the starting right tackle position.

The Raiders could find an interesting training camp battle at left guard between veteran Khalif Barnes and rookie Gabe Jackson. The Raiders re-signed Barnes after he displayed his versatility last year by appearing in all 16 games, but 11 of them at left tackle and the other five at left guard. He also started 25 games at right tackle in two seasons before that.

Barnes’ biggest competition to his starting left guard position will be rookie third-round selection Gabe Jackson out of Mississippi State. Jackson is a big bruiser that started all of his 52 games at left guard while not giving up single sack over his last two seasons. Jackson is expected to be a key piece of the Raiders offensive line for years to come, it just remains to be seen if he’s ready to start as a rookie.

The Raiders were highly criticized for the mishandling of left tackle Jared Veldheer, and if that wasn’t enough, there was the botched signing of Rodger Saffold. In the end, the Raiders ended up signing former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Donald Penn to start at left tackle. Penn is coming off of a horrendous year in which he gave up 12 sacks, six quarterback hits and 28 hurries while at left tackle for the Bucs in 2013. But Penn does have the talent to be a solid tackle for the Silver & Black and has been working hard this offseason in an attempt to return to his 2010 Pro Bowl form.

Penn was released by the Buccaneers in March before joining the Raiders, the team he grew up watching as a kid in Los Angeles. Penn has lost weight this offseason as part of his attempt to get back to where he was in 2010.

The Raiders also have some decent depth on the roster heading into camp with veteran Kevin Boothe, Tony Bergstrom, Lucas Nix and Matt McCants and on the roster.

Boothe can play at either guard position while also having experience at center. Pashos and McCants have experience at the tackle positions while Nix and Bergstrom have played primarily guard. Having this depth, along with the versatility of many of the pieces, will give Sparano decent options should his offensive line become plagued by injuries like it was last season.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Raiders signed so many solid run-blocking offensive lineman as they look to run the ball with Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.

With so many new pieces, it will be important for the starting unit to learn to play together in order to open up some running holes and give starting quarterback Matt Schaub time to find an open receiver.

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