In less than one month, the Oakland Raiders will be on the field for training camp. The team is hoping the offensive line can bounce back from a sub-par 2012 outing and become a strength this upcoming season. Today, tackles are the focus of our ongoing training camp competition series.
The Raiders are set at the left tackle position. Since he has come into the league, Jared Veldheer has worked his way into the starting left tackle role. He is an anchor of the offensive time at the most important position. If anyone has seen Veldheer this offseason, he is a physical specimen. He has started every game the past two seasons for the silver and black and returns for a third protecting the quarterback's blind side. As he continues to improve, the Raiders have a building block along the line.
The right tackle position is more suspect. The team brought back Khalif Barnes, who missed seven games with a groin injury in 2012. Barnes has taken first team reps this offseason and is penciled in as the starter. The 31 year old has 87 career starts during his eight year career. He has his deficiencies, but was sorely missed last season when he wasn't on the field.
Second round 2013 NFL Draft selection Menelik Watson joins the competition at right tackle. Watson is raw; having started playing football late, but his athletic ability is NFL caliber. He will need some seasoning and coaching, but could be ready to contribute this season. The offensive line is being groomed by new offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who is recognized as one of the top coaches at the position. That could help offensive linemen like Watson develop. With Barnes' injury questions, the Raiders need more depth at the position and Watson could fit the bill with his work during training camp.
Willie Smith filled in for Barnes for seven starts last year and struggled mightily. He had blatant difficulties is pass protection and penalties. He is still young at 26 years old, but will need to show significant improvement at camp to be a part of this roster. Because of his struggles, the Raiders also added Alex Barron this offseason for right tackle depth. Barron has been out of the league since 2010 because of a knee injury. If the former first round pick has anything left in the tank, it will come to the forefront in Napa. The final member of the Oakland roster at tackle is undrafted free agent John Wetzel out of Boston College. He started every game the last two seasons in college at both left and right tackle.
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