Raiders need O-Line to be dominant

ABC college football broadcaster Keith Jackson once uttered the phrase, "You can talk about the quarterbacks, you can talk about the running backs and you can talk about the wide receivers – but this one's gonna come down to those big uglies." In that case, look no further than the 2004 Oakland Raiders.

The "big uglies," of course, that Jackson referred to are known as the offensive line. In theory, the offensive line is a vital cog to any team's success. The Oakland Raiders went from having one of the best lines in the NFL in reaching the Super Bowl in 2002 but inconsistent play and injuries typified the unit last season. In addition, since the Raiders are likely to employ more power-running, the line becomes an even bigger key to success.

In one respect, the downturn started on the eve of the Super Bowl with center Barret Robbins' well-publicized and, at the time mysterious, disappearance. Robbins was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder but has since gotten back into the good graces of his team.

When healthy, Robbins is one of the game's best centers but he might be damaged goods in another area. The 30-year old Robbins has an arthritic knee that required surgery that included bone grafting. To that end, the Raiders drafted Jake Grove in the second round out of Virginia Tech. If Grove is ready to start, the Raiders could part ways with Robbins and keep longsnapper Adam Treu as a capable backup.

Oakland's biggest void to fill would be replacing right tackle Lincoln Kennedy, who retired. Other than Art Shell, you would be hard-pressed to find an offensive tackle that had a better career as a Raider than Kennedy. Oakland, however, feels that third-year man Langston Walker is ready to step in enough though he could use a little more seasoning.

The biggest splash of the offseason came when the Raiders drafted Iowa offensive tackle Robert Gallery with the second overall pick in the draft. Gallery is expected to take over at left tackle for Barry Sims.

Oakland coaches are listing that Gallery is still on the second team but it's hard to imagine taking someone as the second overall pick with the thought in mind of him becoming the starter. Sims, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 1999, has been a serviceable job but has had trouble with faster pass rushers and has had a growing penchant for false start infractions. Sims could possibly slide inside at guard.

Speaking of guards, Frank Middleton and Mo Collins had solid seasons in 2002 but both landed on injured reserve last season. One, or both, could be shown the door before the season starts. Collins has been rumored to be the stronger possibility of the two.

The Raiders acquired Ron Stone as a free agent from San Francisco. That leaves Stone as a likely starter at one guard with Brad Badger fitting into the equation as no worse than a backup. Injuries allowed Badger start 11 games last season and could an ample opportunity to start this season.

For the Raiders to return to being a contender, they must fix what was broken.

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