Former Cowboys lineman Andre Gurode (No. 65) was signed by the Raiders for depth and insurance. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
At first, the news was dire on Raiders offensive tackle Jared Veldheer:
The veteran, who was emerging as one of the league’s better young blockers on the left side of the line, was announced early Wednesday as having a torn triceps and could be lost for the entire season. Later, however, reports by ESPN’s Adam Schefter indicated Veldheer has only a partial tear, and he may be able to play for half of the season or more.
That would be much better news for a Raiders team that needs its offensive line to be much better than it was in 2012 when 4-12 Oakland had trouble opening holes for the run and protecting the quarterback. Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski are the team’s best offensive linemen, and Veldheer’s loss is costly.
“It’s a total mess,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said of the Raiders’ offensive line situation, following the initial announcement of Veldheer’s injury. “I really liked Veldheer and felt like he was on the cusp of becoming one of the better left tackles in football and clearly one of the Raiders’ few building blocks for the future.”
With Veldheer out, the Raiders have to hope others can pick up the slack. Free-agent pickup Alex Barron – who has had a very good camp – can move into Veldheer’s spot and Khalif Barnes can stay at right tackle, but the team’s guard situation is ill defined, with Mike Brisiel and Lucas Nix battling for the starting job on the right side and Tony Bergstrom and Andre Gurode competing on the left side.
Oakland now has to hope that it can get some unexpectedly good play from Gurode – a former Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys – and No. 2 draft pick Menelik Watson.
Gurode, 35, who played both center and guard during his nine seasons in Dallas, was signed recently for insurance and to compete for a job. Now that insurance policy may prove helpful.
Though he’s coming off two knee surgeries and bounced between the Ravens and Bears the past two seasons – and didn’t play a game when he was with Chicago in 2012 – he reportedly has looked good at the Raiders training camp in Napa.
“I think Andre’s done fairly well,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Gurode, who’s been getting reps mostly at guard. “It was a position that we hadn’t worked him a whole lot at early in training camp. Having a guy like him – who can play guard for us, that can play center for you – that’s a huge upside.”
Watson, meanwhile, is a different story.
Because of a calf injury, the big rookie from England via Florida State – who had been classified as raw, athletic and in need of a lot of polishing – hasn’t been able to get on-the-job experience. He re-injured the calf in early August and was sidelined again after having missed the start of training camp. At that time, after having to leave the practice field following the second injury, he reportedly punched a bench in frustration and later told reporters, “This is not the way I planned my first training camp.”
The Raiders were hoping Watson would be able to work his way into the lineup this year and – with Veldheer and Wisniewski – start to form the core of a young, physical line.
“He’s a guy that we’re counting on,” Allen said recently. “He’s a second-round draft choice. He’s got a lot of talent, a lot of potential, but he’s got to be able to be out here. I think he’s as frustrated as any of us us, too, so it’s not from a lack of effort.”
The Raiders expect Watson can soon return to practice, in time to perhaps get some snaps in exhibition games. But how much will he be able to contribute? Perhaps not much.
As ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson wrote, Watson “is way behind.”
“It may be some time before he can help,” he wrote Wednesday.