The Oakland Raiders offensive line has been a liability for a long time, but things could be changing. ESPN AFC West blogger Matt Williamson listed the Raiders offensive line as the team's "hidden treasure" in his series on AFC West units that could exceed expectations in 2012.
The other listings included the defensive line of the San Diego Chargers, the wide out unit of the Denver Broncos, and the tight end position of the Kansas City Chiefs. See what Williamson had to say about the Raiders offensive line unit after the jump.
Williams speaks very highly of Mike Brisiel, the free agent right guard signed by the Raiders this off season. Briesiel is strictly a zone blocking guard, but he plays very well in the zone blocking system. Plus, Brisiel played for the Houston Texans, where both the Oakland Raiders new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack were coaching last season, making it an easier transition to his new team.
Williams also said that he really likes center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer. Wisniewski played very well at left guard in his rookie year and the Raiders believe he is ready to take over the center position and anchor the offensive line. Veldheer is going into his third year with the Oakland Raiders and his second full year as the starter at left tackle. Veldheer had some ups and downs in his rookie season, but looked very good in his second year.
He also notes that Cooper Carlisle should play better in the zone blocking system this season. But he does not mention rookie Tony Bergstrom. A tackle in college, Bergstrom is being moved to guard and is a good fit for the zone blocking scheme. He is projected to be a starting caliber guard in the NFL and should push Carlisle for the starting job. Even if he does not win it, he will likely push Carlisle to play better than he would if he did not have solid competition nipping at his heels.
At right tackle, Khalif Barnes will compete with Joseph Barksdale for the starting position. This will easily be the worst position on the offensive line. If Barksdale does not take the position from Barnes, the Raiders might need to start looking some new prospects at the right tackle position.
Williams says that the Raiders offensive line should no longer be a concern, but I'd go so far as to say that it could be positive for the Raiders this season. Three of their five starters are very talented and will have a strong season. The fourth starter at right guard will likely play better than last season due to the competition and while the right tackle position is a liability, its not terrible. The run blocking should be very good next season and with a solid left tackle protecting the blind side for Carson Palmer, the pass protection should be above average. With good performances from all of the talented pass catchers on the Raiders, the passing game should have very few problems with protection.