One of the most important hires last year for the Raiders was offensive line coach Tom Cable.
He came in and helped build the self-esteem of an offensive line that was largely responsible for allowing a league-high 72 sacks in 2006.
Under Cable’s watch, the offensive line went from horrid to an average unit.
The Raiders allowed 41 sacks, 11th most in the NFL and still way too many. Not all of those sacks are the fault of the line, but it’s an area the group still needs to improve in.
One reason the sack total decreased was Lane Kiffin’s playcalling. The Raiders ran 508 times, fourth most in the NFL. Their 260 pass attempts were the fourth fewest in the NFL.
If the offense is to become more proficient and balance, the team can't allow a sack every 6.3 attempts.
The offensive line helped the Raiders accomplish a key goal – to finish in the top-10 in rushing. The Raiders were sixth at 130.4 yards a game.
Robert Gallery may have found a home at guard. Kiffin and Cable often praised the aggressiveness he played with, but want to see improvement in pass blocking and few penalties.
Another young offensive lineman that came on late and might have earned a starting spot heading into the 2008 season was Paul McQuistan.
Art Shell’s staff played McQuistan at guard as a rookie. In his second season, McQuistan was a player Kiffin said fit at guard and tackle in the team’s zone-blocking scheme.
McQuistan started six games at right tackle in place of Cornell Green. After a couple of rough outings as an injury replacement for Green, McQuistan settled in and had a decent finish to the season.
But if McQuistan can stay at right tackle, that leaves what the Raiders do at left tackle. Barry Sims returned to left tackle and had moments where he played well, but was still plagued by too many false start penalties.
Sims is also 33. So the Raiders need to consider who might be his replacement in waiting.
A logical choice would be Mario Henderson, a third-round pick last year. But the coaching staff didn’t show much confidence in him. Cable said Henderson needed to be pushed and Kiffin also noted he needed to play with more confidence.
Cooper Carlisle played right guard and figures to remain there next season. The Raiders need to figure out what to do at center, too.
Jeremy Newberry started 14 games after knee injuries limited him in recent years. But he’ll be 32 this year and he has to decide if he wants to keep playing.
Jake Grove’s season was done in by a knee injury that eventually sent him to injured reserve. He was a second-round pick in 2005, but Newberry’s size and strength gave him the advantage over Grove.
If the Raiders don’t find someone in free agency they’d like to add to help the offensive line, look for the staff to look at Mark Wilson, who was on the practice squad until the final game of the season, to provide depth at tackle.
Chris Morris is another backup guard. The team also added Jonathan Palmer from Pittsburgh’s practice squad late in the season to have him around for the offseason.
Finding a solid young left tackle and center would appear to be the Raiders’ biggest needs up front.
Improvement in pass protection also needs to be a focus for the Raiders to become a good offense.