Khalif Barnes (right) has been the starter at right tackle, but it's not certain he'll be there in 2013. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Just a little more than a month ago, the Oakland Raiders re-signed veteran Khalif Barnes, the team’s starting right offensive tackle.
Barnes, a former second-round pick out of the University of Washington by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005, has played the past four seasons for the Raiders, starting 30 games.
He struggled with injuries last season – undergoing groin surgery – and played just nine games, but his re-signing seemed to indicate he was still in the Raiders’ plans.
Yet in the second round of the recently completed draft, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie drafted Florida State’s Menelik Watson – a right tackle.
So where does that leave Barnes?
Until training camp begins, we won’t really know.
Barnes, who played relatively well for the Raiders under the power-blocking scheme of head coach Hue Jackson in 2010 and 2011, should be better under a return to that scheme and with the coaching of Tony Sparano, Oakland’s new offensive line coach.
But Barnes has been inconsistent in the past, plagued by false-start and holding penalties and has been the target of fans’ ire. He played better when switched from left tackle to the right side, however, and his presence obviously was missed in the lineup last season.
Still, when he did play in the zone-blocking scheme he had his troubles, grading out 64th among 80 qualifiers at his position in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now, with Watson on board – an athletic but raw prospect – it appears Barnes will be fighting for his job. If the Raiders invested a second-round pick on Watson, they’ll want to see what he can do. It could be the Raiders think Watson won’t be ready to start by opening day, so Barnes will remain at right tackle until Watson proves himself. Or, perhaps, Barnes could be moved inside to guard.
The other possibility is that the Raiders might have other plans for Watson.
Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales told the San Francisco Chronicle that Watson will “come in and play and compete” at right tackle, left tackle or guard. Since Jared Veldheer is the left tackle – and a good one – that seems unlikely, leaving guard and right tackle.
Some believe the opening-game lineup might be Veldheer and Barnes at the tackles, Tony Bergstrom and Watson at the guard spots and Stefen Wisniewski at center.
One thing is certain, though: the Raiders like Watson and paid a price to get him. He’ll no doubt get every opportunity to win a spot in the lineup.
Watson, at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, is big, nimble, athletic and talented, a former boxer and basketball player.
Watson, says Clinkscales, has “the strength and demeanor that we’re looking for.”
If Barnes is to continue to play for the Raiders, he’ll have to demonstrate similar qualities.