'Tweak' in the Knee Hurts Oakland
By Bess Shapiro
The Oakland Raiders might be starting the 2013 season with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. And it’s not getting any better. Rookie tackle Menelik Watson, who missed training camp and most of the preseason with a calf injury, hurt his knee during practice on Wednesday, Sept. 4, according to reports. Coach Dennis Allen said Watson “tweaked” his knee but wouldn’t elaborate on the extent of the injury or whether it would prevent him from starting on Sunday in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
This isn’t good. Watson may be able to practice again before the game and perhaps even start, but a sore knee will not boost his performance. He did well in his preseason debut against the Seattle Seahawks on Aug. 29th, opening holes and throwing key blocks for running back Jeremy Stewart.
Tackle Jared Veldheer, one of Oakland’s best players, is out with a torn triceps. If he goes on injured reserve, he can’t come back until Week 8. Allen is not saying what the plan is for Veldheer, but he will not play on Sunday. Oakland has released Alex Barron, probably not the worst thing given that he couldn’t seem to stop the rush. With that in mind, as every expert has pointed out, without Veldheer the Raiders have three healthy starting tackles -- Watson, Khalif Barnes and newly acquired Tony Pashos. If Watson is hurt, that leaves two.
Allen says that if Watson can’t play, Barnes will play left tackle and Pashos will move to right tackle. Pashos, who is entering his ninth season, has played in 92 games, appearing in the playoffs with the Baltimore Ravens (2006) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2007). He has the experience and the size (6-6, 325 pounds), but he also didn’t play last year. Barnes has done well considering how he’s been shuffled around with Veldheer out.
These offensive line injuries and uncertainties come at a bad time, as Oakland faces a tough opponent in the Indianapolis Colts. During the Peyton Manning years, the Colts were not known for their defense. Now they’ve balanced their Andrew Luck-led offense with their defense, which paid off in the preseason. In their two exhibition wins this year, they didn’t give up a touchdown.
With that in mind, Oakland’s O-line will have to employ every weapon in its arsenal as effectively as possible to protect Terrelle Pryor and open up the running game. Right guard Mike Brisiel and left guard Lucas Nix will both need to step up their run blocking. Brisiel hasn’t been healthy either, but Allen can also turn to offensive lineman Andre Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowler. Gurode played well in the preseason. In Oakland’s win over the Cowboys, Gurode threw a huge block, allowing RB Latavius Murray to run for seven yards and a first down, keeping a drive alive. It could well be a long day for the Raiders, but at least Pryor can scramble.