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O-line coach Sparano used to challenges

10/24/2013

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Tony Sparano once took over a 1-15 team in Miami and had the Dolphins in the playoffs as an 11-5 division champion the next year.

So yeah, the Raiders assistant head coach, who is also Oakland’s offensive line coach, knows all about challenges. But his current situation with the Raiders’ banged-up O-line is a different animal. A wounded one, so to speak.

“This has been the most moving pieces ... that I’ve been around,” Sparano said Wednesday.

“With the amount of injuries and, at times, the way that they’ve happened, it’s been a challenge, but it’s not an excuse. There’s no excuse. From our end, we talk about two things -- we make progress, not excuses, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Could you blame Sparano, though, if he at least quietly asked the football gods for a do-over?

It began in training camp when left tackle Jared Veldheer underwent surgery on his left triceps. Then guard Tony Bergstrom, the first pick of the Reggie McKenzie/Dennis Allen regime, was lost for the season with a lisfranc injury to his right foot.

“It just trickles down,” Sparano said. “The most that I’ve seen in a long time.”

Guard Lucas Nix dealt with an ankle sprain and Stefen Wisniewski missed two games with a sprained right knee, though he practiced Wednesday for the first time since injuring it on Sept. 29 against Washington. Right tackle Tony Pashos, who was signed just before the season opener, has dealt with groin and hip issues and did not practice Wednesday, nor did backup center/left guard Andre Gurode, who is nursing a quad injury.

Rookie second-round draft pick Menelik Watson has been sidelined with calf problems, then knee problems, and then calf problems again. Coach Dennis Allen surmised the Raiders have had Watson for maybe 10 practices total.

“We have not played with the same unit for two weeks in a row since the third quarter of the Jacksonville game,” Sparano said. And that was in Week 2.

It’s all made for a couple of baptisms by fire for rookie guard Lamar Mady and first-year tackle Matt McCants.

“It doesn’t really matter who’s up front because I believe in all of them,” Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor said. “Some guys may be a little more talented, yes, but I believe in all those guys, and I think they’re going to show this Sunday.”

If nothing else, the extended playing time for Mady and McCants will only help them down the road, even if the 10 sacks the Raiders surrendered in Kansas City was reduced to nine following a league review.

The versatility of his linemen, Sparano said, has been a saving grace. Gurode has the ability to play left guard and center. Brisiel was able to move from right guard to center. Khalif Barnes moved from right tackle to left tackle, and Mady took practice snaps at center.

Doing it all on a game-changing (for the positive) level? Now that’s a different story.

Still, Sparano said he told the linemen in camp that whoever made that initial 53-man roster would see playing time in games. That’s just the nature of the beast.

This beast, though, has been untamed, what with the rash of injuries.

“There’s body blows that go on in our league every single day,” Sparano said. “We just happen to be catching a few body blows right now at the wrong time, and you’ve got to be able to overcome them.

“People that can overcome them the best and the fastest will end up being in the mix at the end of this.”