Raiders offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom says new offensive line coach Tony Sparano (above, when he was head coach in Miami), brings a fire to Oakland's offensive line. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
When Tony Bergstrom reported for training camp as a rookie last season, the Raiders’ offensive lineman wasn’t quite sure what was in store.
As the team’s top draft pick in 2012 – a third-round selection from Utah – the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder had been a tackle, starting every game his senior season for the Utes on the right side of the line while being named first team all-Pac-12 Conference.
But the Raiders – who are scheduled to hold their first full-squad practice of summer training camp today in Napa -- projected him at guard, and he spent his first season switching from guard to tackle and working on both the right and left sides of the line as a backup.
Now, Bergstrom is the projected starter at left guard.
“I was going in last year just hoping not to screw up,” Bergstrom recently told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group. “This year, the idea is going in with a little more confidence, ready to play. That’s kind of the next step after being able to play a little bit (last season). So, it was a big opportunity last year.”
On Thursday, when Bergstrom reported to training camp, he said he’s coming in with a clearer vision of what’s ahead over the next several weeks.
“That is the biggest difference, just knowing what to expect,” he told the team’s website. “There’s not a ton of surprise, and with that you can go in with a little more confidence just knowing what’s coming. We have a whole lot of extra time there in the offseason workouts to learn everything. There’s really no surprises coming at you now.”
This season, it’s possible Bergstrom could be part of a much more effective offensive line. Standouts Stefen Wisniewski (at center) and Jared Veldheer (left tackle) flank him, and the unit as a whole is under the direction of veteran offensive line coach Tony Sparano, an upbeat, vocal personality who has shifted the unit’s scheme from zone-blocking to power-blocking.
Bergstrom loves playing for him.
“He just brings a whole wealth of knowledge,” Bergstrom told Raiders.com. “He’s coaching things I’d never even heard of in my life and all of a sudden you realize how much it helps. He also brings a sort of intensity with him. He’s a fun guy to be around, but when it comes down to business, he’s pretty intense. The whole O-line kind of mimics that character. The O-line coach creates the personality for the O-line and that’s the kind of personality you want is a Tony Sparano personality.”
When McKenzie selected Bergstrom with his first-ever draft pick as Raiders GM last year, it was with the idea that the former Ute could help set the tone for a new era in Oakland as a solid, hard-working, hard-hitting player.
“The one thing, the guy’s a football player,” McKenzie said of Bergstrom. “He’s tough, he plays with great football intelligence, he understands the game. He is a physical football player. Tough. And that’s what you want. …
“He’s going to help us up front.”
Now, entering his second camp, he has that opportunity. The left guard spot hasn’t been given to him, but he’s No. 1 in line to lock it up in July and August.
“That’s a big deal, a big motivating factor, coming in knowing there’s a spot that’s open and being competed for,” Bergstrom told Corkran. “That’s kind of the nice thing about it this year, with that goal in mind, as opposed to coming in and telling you, ‘Well, you might need to play a little tackle, so be ready for that.’ It’s, ‘Know the guard and be ready for guard.’ ”