Raiders’ Wisniewski set at center despite talk
NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Stefen Wisniewski has every reason to believe he’ll be the Raiders’ starting center for a second straight season despite talk about a possible move to left guard.
If his first two years in the NFL have taught the 2011 second-round pick anything, it’s to be prepared for change — even if coach Dennis Allen insists there are no plans to move him.
“I haven’t been told that by anybody,” Wisniewski said Thursday after the Raiders resumed training camp practice following an off day. “I’m just working to be the best center I can be.”
Wisniewski has already played for two head coaches and three line coaches. He’s also in the process of learning his third offensive system.
Finding stability in the running game has been equally challenging for the Raiders. That’s why so much attention is being focused on their offensive line.
The team also signed five-time Pro Bowl lineman Andre Gurode last week and have him taking reps at center and both guard spots.
For now, Wisniewski remains atop the depth chart. He started 15 games at center a year ago after missing much of the offseason due to shoulder surgery, and expects to be back there when the 2013 regular season begins.
“As far as I’m concerned I’m playing center now,” Wisniewski said. “If that changes I’m sure they’ll let me know. But I’m happy where I’m at. If they want me to play guard, I’ll play guard. It is nice to get to stay in one spot, though, and get comfortable there.”
That’s been an uphill battle for the former Penn State standout.
Wisniewski was drafted with the 48th overall pick in 2011 and immediately dubbed the team’s starting center by then-coach Hue Jackson. But Wisniewski made just one start in the middle and spent the remainder of the season at left guard.
That was the same season running back Darren McFadden rushed for 614 yards in the first seven games before a foot injury sidelined him the remainder of the season.
Much of McFadden’s success came on the left side behind Wisniewski and Veldheer. So when the team went back to the power blocking schemes they used two seasons ago, speculation began that the Raiders would move Wisniewski back to guard.
The signing of Gurode last Friday only added to the rumor mill, but Allen quickly shot down that theory and said Tony Bergstrom, a third-round pick in 2012, and Lucas Nix will continue competing to start at left guard.
″(Wisniewski) has done a nice job at the center position,” Allen said. “At this point, all we’re working on is Wiz is our starting center and he’s done a nice job there.”
He certainly looked comfortable Thursday.
On the first play of a team scrimmage, the 6-foot-3-inch, 307-pound center cleared out a huge gap in the middle of the defense while Bergstrom knocked a defender down to the right, opening a gaping hole for McFadden to sprint through.
Plays like that have Wisniewski excited about the possibilities the Raiders have now that they’re using a power blocking system. McFadden averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry in the zone schemes last season.
“To me it starts with D-Mac,” Wisniewski said. “It’s a system he likes real well and I think we’re going to be good with the downhill schemes. We’re getting it down pretty well.”
Notes: Defensive end Lamarr Houston was unable to finish practice due to an undisclosed reason. ... CB Brandian Ross did not practice, joining a long list that includes wide receiver Jacoby Ford. Ford, who missed all of 2012 with a foot injury, jogged from the locker room to the practice field but remains sidelined. ... Former Raider linebacker Bill Romanowski and offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy attended practice. Kennedy, a three-time Pro Bowl selection when he played, spent time offering tips to some of the Raiders younger offensive linemen.