The Oakland Raiders’ offensive line has been in constant flux since the injury to starting left tackle Jared Veldheer during training camp.
It’s been like a game of musical chairs all across the Raiders’ front five, with players plugged in here, there and everywhere.
This week, just as it appeared rookie tackle Menelik Watson was destined to return to the lineup, he reinjured a calf muscle, meaning former right tackle Khalif Barnes will stay at left tackle. But Tony Pashos, who missed the Sunday night victory over the Chargers, is back and is expected to start at right tackle. Center Stefen Wisniewski, meanwhile, who missed the Chargers game with a sprained knee, did not practice Wednesday and appears likely to miss Sunday’s game at Kansas City vs. the 5-0 Chiefs.
That means the Raiders (2-3) will once again start Andre Gurode at center, which will give Wisniewski plenty of chance to heal (with the Raiders coming up on their bye week after the Chiefs game).
Gurode, it turns out, has been a terrific insurance policy for the Raiders. Signed just before training camp, Guorde, 34, missed last season with an injury and played for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 after spending nine seasons with the Cowboys, who took him in the second round of the 2002 draft. It was with Dallas that the 6-foot-4, 314-pounder was a two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl center.
The Raiders signed him as a backup left guard and center, and now Gurode is paying dividends. He played a strong game in the Raiders’ 27-17 victory over the Chargers, including good work in the shotgun and pistol formations, when both his snapping and blocking earned praise.
“He’s played that position at a high level for a long time in this league, and he really did a good job in the game and I think the more he plays in there the better he’s going to be,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told Bay Area reporters this week. “So I would look for even more improvement out of him this week. He’s got a tough challenge, but I would look for more improvement out of him this week.”
Gurode said getting back into action at center, after spending most of his time since joining the Raiders at guard, is just a matter of knocking the rust off.
“One of the things that our coaches always tell us is that you have to be prepared because you’re always one play away, so you have to be prepared for multiple positions,” Gurode told ESPN. “It has been a challenge. But the guys around me have made it very easy. I’m just picking their brains and getting back into that mode of playing the center position.”
Gurode will have to take on the Chiefs fine young nose tackle, Dontari Poe, the anchor of Kansas City’s strong defense. Gurode will have to handle Poe if the Raiders want to run the ball, and with running backs Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings both back practicing this week, Oakland will certainly try to establish the run game early.
The Chiefs are No. 7 in the NFL in total defense, giving up just 312 yards per game, and rank No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 11.6 points. Their run defense, however, has been less stellar. The Chiefs rank just 21st, giving up 115 yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt.
So, although the Raiders’ O-Line is a bit of a patchwork quilt, Allen knows it will be a key in establishing the run game and protecting quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Former backups Gurode and Pashos and Barnes – moved from the right to the left side – will need to play at a high level.
“We have to be able to run the football. We have to be able to throw the football to be effective,” Allen said. “We have to be able to stay ahead of the sticks. You start getting into third-and-long situations against these guys, it’s been tough sledding for a lot of teams … We have to be able to stay on schedule offensively, stay ahead of the sticks and then when we do get to third down, we have to be able to convert.”