The play of the Oakland Raiders’ guards in 2013 was not pretty. Lucas Nix started ten games and turned in one of the most atrocious seasons in recent memory. Mike Brisiel was underwhelming in 15 starts at right guard. In the offseason, the Raiders improved one spot by signing Austin Howard to play right guard. Although Howard is a tackle by trade, his nasty demeanor could translate into incredible guard play.
However, there is a four way battle royale for the left guard spot. Khalif Barnes and Lucas Nix are the two experienced candidates. However, the coaching staff is not likely to give Nix another shot after last season, unless he improved drastically.
Barnes is the elder statesmen of the group, and after a rough outing at left tackle for half the season, improved drastically once he moved into the interior. Although his slow and heavy feet hurt him at tackle, he moved just fine taking on defensive tackles. The only flaw to his game is his atrocious run blocking. Even with good positioning on defenders, Barnes lacks the strength to generate push in the run game. He is frequently knocked back into the backfield.
Boothe is the newbie to the group, but possibly the most experienced. He has started 62 games in his career, including 14 for the Raiders, who drafted him in 2006. He is a two time Super Bowl champion, and even started in Super Bowl XLVI. While he didn’t perform as well in 2013 as he did in 2012, he spent half the season switching between guard and center. His versatility is one of his strong suits, but it would best if he spent a season at one position. When he’s playing well, he is a severe upgrade over Barnes, especially in run blocking.
The darkhorse for the job would be Tony Bergstrom, their third round pick from 2012. Bergstrom actually was the starting left guard going into the 2013 before going on IR with a foot injury, and offensive line coach Tony Sparano was high on him coming out of college. Bergstrom is likely healthy by now, but will have steep competition with more options in front of him, compared to last season when he simply had to beat out Lucas Nix.
The likely scenario will be that Barnes starts the season at left guard, with Boothe being the interior swing man backing up both him and Stefan Wisniewski. Boothe could take over during the season if Barnes’ run blocking gets worse. The Raiders still seem high on Bergstrom, and will likely rotate him in during the season once they know he is ready to go. For long term stability, the team should groom Bergstrom to take over the job permanently and become a franchise player.
However, with the draft only a week away, the team could easily draft another guard in the mid rounds to compete, which would throw a curveball into the entire competition. Either way, Tony Sparano will have a tough decision to make once organized team activities begin.