No area got more attention this off-season for the Raiders than the offensive line. In particular the guard positions. The Raiders had a lot of trouble with protection from the guards last season and are putting an emphasis on running the ball this season. The interior line is key to accomplishing that.
So, let's see what the interior line is looking like as they head into training camp:
LG: Khalif Barnes, Gabe Jackson, Lamar Mady, Lucas Nix
RG: Austin Howard, Tony Bergstrom, Jarrod Shaw
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Kevin Boothe
Former Jets offensive tackle Austin Howard was the team's first and biggest free agent signing. Kevin Boothe signed as a free agent from the Giants. Gabe Jackson was the team's third round draft choice.
The big question
Who will start at left guard?
Khalif Barnes finished last season as the starter at left guard and he came into this off-season running with the first team. The team used their third round pick on Gabe Jackson and he has gotten some first team reps here and there as the team tries to figure out what they have in him. Barnes played admirably at the position especially considering he has played right tackle for the Raiders the past two seasons. It will be a good competition between these two. Either way could be good news. Barnes will benefit at the position from having an entire off-season there. If Jackson starts it means he is ahead of schedule in and could signal he is the long term solution at left guard the team needs him to be.
Best case scenario
Everyone staying healthy. They have great depth but having their choice at left guard as well as keeping Stefen Wisniewski starting at center and Austin Howard starting at right guard is their best possible situation. That would offer depth at all three positions.
Worst case scenario
Stefen Wisniewski gets injured. He is the one guy who, should he go down, there would be a sizable drop-off. This would especially be true if it were to happen late in camp or early in the season. The communication and rhythm between he and Matt Schaub is key to Schaub's success. Kevin Boothe will be the backup center and he has played center before but he is better suited as a guard. He is also better suited as a backup.
Austin Howard played at right tackle for the Jets the past two seasons but the Raiders have moved him to guard. That is not typical for a 6-7, 330-pound lineman, but offensive line coach Tony Sporano likes his linemen big and versatile. He coached Howard in his one season as offensive coordinator in New York and knows how well he plays as a run blocker. And the ability to step in at right tackle is also a bonus.
Kevin Boothe was originally a sixth round pick by the Raiders out of Cornell. He spent one season in Oakland, starting 14 games at right guard. He then was with the Giants for both of their Super Bowl wins, including as a starter at every interior line position in 2011.
Khalif Barnes is on his sixth-straight one-year contract with the Raiders. Every year it looks like the team will be finding a young replacement and moving on, and every year, he earns a starting job. He was out injured for seven games in 2012. Outside of those games - which were a disaster while Willie Smith started in his place --, he has started every game the past three seasons.
Stefen Wisniewski is already carving out a fine career with the Raiders. His uncle Steve spent every season of his 13-year, Hall of Fame worthy career at left guard for the Raiders. Stefen had his best season last season in year three. If he keeps on this trajectory, there could be Pro Bowls in his future. Just like his uncle who was an 8-time Pro Bowler and 2-time first team All Pro.
Tony Bergstrom was the very first draft pick by the new regime. They chose him with their third round compensatory pick. He has started just one game in two seasons. He is currently buried on the depth chart and has a steep uphill battle if he hopes to make this team out of camp.