Raiders offensive lineman Khalif Barnes never has been a star.
After four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he signed with the Raiders as a free agent in 2009 and has played both right and left tackle in Oakland while also filling in at left guard last season. He’s played in 63 games with the Raiders, starting 46. He’s been valuable and reliable, yet never has advanced to standout status.
This past offseason, the team re-signed Barnes. Yet the Raiders’ offseason hopes for 2014 are that second-year pro Menelik Watson wins the job at right tackle, Donald Penn starts at left tackle and rookie Gabe Jackson starts at left guard.
Barnes, however, is determined to add more starts to his resume. When he signed his new deal in February, Barnes said he was “so excited to be back.”
“I want to be part of the process that turns this thing around,” he said. “I am excited I get the chance to come back and help this team win.”
Yet at the start of training camp, the coaching staff and teammates were raving about Jackson, the 6-foot-3, 336-pound power-blocking phenom from Mississippi State.
“The biggest thing I like about Gabe Jackson is he’s a strong, powerful player,” head coach Dennis Allen told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. Added center Stefen Wisniewski: “He’s very strong. I can see him being a very good run blocker. He’s learning how to pass block in the NFL. It’s a completely different ballgame, but he’s got the ability to do it. I could see him being a starter at some point. He’s got that ability.”
But “at some point” has not yet come. As the Raiders prepare for their first exhibition game this Friday night at Minnesota, Barnes still has the edge on Jackson.
When the offense takes the field against the Vikings, Barnes – the afterthought – will be at left guard.
“Every year there is competition and every year some people seem to count me out, but neither one bothers me,” Barnes told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I have proved I can still play after 10 years. … I like to prove people wrong.”
The fine training camp by Barnes so far is good news for the Raiders, who have much more talent and depth along the offensive line than they’ve had in years. The competition for starting spots is a good sign that this line might be much more effective in 2014. If Barnes can play so well as to keep Jackson on the bench, it’s going to take both players higher.
And, according to Raiders coaches, Barnes, 32, is working hard to stay ahead of Jackson while also being a good teammate and a mentor to the rookie.
“I help the kid out whenever I can,” Barnes told Tafur. “Whatever is best for the team, I am all for it.”
After several more weeks of training camp and four exhibition games, it’s still possible Jackson can overtake Barnes by the Sept. 7 season opener vs. the Jets. Until then, however, Barnes is opening some eyes.
“He has the fountain of youth going,” said Olson. “He is really doing a good job.”