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Khalif Barnes making the most of his opportunity

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Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Khalif Barnes takes the stage at the 2012 Raider Nation Celebration (photo by Levi Damien)
Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Khalif Barnes takes the stage at the 2012 Raider Nation Celebration (photo by Levi Damien)

When the Raiders first had Khalif Barnes in for a workout in 2009, he didn't initially sign. The Raiders had just moved on from the disastrous left tackle experiment that was Kwame Harris. They had paid Harris a big contract thinking the former first round pick could solidify the position. As it turned out, they threw a lot of money down the drain on a player who started a total of 11 games for the team.

So you can imagine when former second round pick left tackle Barnes came for a workout, the Raiders were not about to make the same mistake so soon. Barnes left without a contract most likely because either the money was not what he and his agent had hoped for or the length of the contract. So they put out feelers to see what else was out there.

When they discovered there was nothing else out there, or at very least nothing better, Barnes signed with the Raiders on a one year deal. The Jaguars had moved on from him as their left tackle and Barnes hoped to prove them wrong for doing so. A year holding down the left tackle position for the Raiders and then re-entering the market looked like his best option.

Things didn't quite work out that way, however. He would lose the competition for the starting left tackle spot in favor of Mario Henderson. Then the following season, the team drafted Jared Veldheer to compete with Henderson at left tackle and Barnes would be forced to switch to the right side if he hoped to eventually start for this team.

To get the right tackle position, he would have to go through Langston Walker. And Walker won that battle.

But Barnes signed yet another one year deal and returned for the 2011 season. This time, he would return to be a starter once again for the first time since his last season in Jacksonville in 2008.

Last season, Barnes started every game at right tackle. He had an up and down season with his biggest issues being penalties. False starts were his bane and a cause of great frustration. But as the season progressed and he settled into the right tackle spot, his confidence grew.

This offseason, he re-signed with the Raiders on another one year deal, knowing that the right tackle position was his to lose. The Raiders were switching to the zone blocking scheme and they wanted him back. That was just the vote of confidence he needed.

"Well, I tell you man, it feels pretty good." Said Barnes. "[Dennis Allen] and Reggie McKenzie calling me in the offseason saying they want to bring me back. I'm just happy and appreciative of those guys wanting me to be a part of the team for another season and allowing me to play another year in the NFL because no matter what you have contract wise we all know the only thing that matters is the year coming up. You can't look too far ahead or into previous years or anything past the season that you're about to go into so I'm just happy that I'm here and happy that those two and Frank [Pollack] for giving me the opportunity to come out here and display what I can do and giving me a chance to earn a job out there. So I'm just very humbled and appreciative of those guys. And in return my job is to come out here and give everything I've got as a player and 100% to them and the organization."

When watching Barnes in practice and in the first preseason game, there is no doubt as to the work he has put in and of his abilities as a pass protector. He has been arguably the most dominant offensive lineman on this team in this year's camp. Routinely, he puts pass rushers on the ground. Often times he does it with a single move. He waits for the right moment to engage and he makes it count.

After last season, the one worry was suddenly switching things up to a zone scheme just as Barnes had found his footing in the power blocking scheme. But Barnes says he has worked in both schemes before and the transition has not been an issue for him.

"I can do both. When I was in Jacksonville earlier in my career we ran a lot of power with Fred [Taylor] and Maurice [Jones-Drew] but we also had a lot of zone plays because Maurice is a lot like Darren McFadden. Not the speed, I mean, Maurice is still fast but as far as reading inside and outside zone. They're two very good backs that can do both. We had some outside zones in Jacksonville too and we had different line coaches and coordinators there too so we had a couple different schemes for four years. I kinda got accustomed to it. I like the zone scheme and I like the power scheme. There's positives to both of them and you kinda gotta have a good mix of them when you're facing different defenses. When you have a big defense, you want to throw some mixes in there. I like where we're at."

In the new schemes both on offense and defense, there has been some weight changes. But Barnes has not changed his weight for the new zone blocking scheme and from the looks of it, there is no need.

Barnes came into camp in an open competition with second year player, Joseph Barksdale. The team has had hopes the former fourth round pick would be the eventual replacement at right tackle. But for right now, there is really no competition. Barnes has separated himself as the starter at right tackle while Barksdale has been a utility backup at both tackle positions.

In a year's time, Barnes has gone from being a fill in, to a solid starter for the Raiders. At this year's Raider Nation Celebration, Barnes led the group to the stage and was the outspoken leader of the group. The last time the event took place was before the 2010 season while Barnes couldn't earn a starting job at either tackle position. Things are quite different now.

His confidence is building and at age 30, if he continues to impress and eliminates the penalties, the next contract he is offered will be more than a year. It would be his first multi-year deal since his rookie contract and validate all the work he has put in. It would also solidify the right tackle position for the Raiders for a good long time.