Raiders Put Hopes on the Line Sunday : Offensive Linemen May Be the Key to Success Against Patriots

Times Staff Writer

It's a new day on the Raider offensive line, home of the large men who have known all kinds. In January 1984, when the Raiders bombed the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII and announced the newest dynasty, they were thought to be so big, so experienced, so deep, that they had the equivalent of two NFL lines.

Eighteen months later, under assault by the new all-out blitzes, they were being derided as Elephant Walk.

A Raider is expected to hold pass blocks longer. This was tricky enough when you could depend on there being as many blockers as rushers. When they were overrun, their dependents--Jim Plunkett, Marc Wilson, former Raider David Humm--started disappearing at an alarming rate. In a game at Chicago last season, the choice at quarterback dwindled to Ray Guy or someone back from the infirmary.

This season, too, started with a bang, but not the one intended.

Plunkett was felled by a 49er sack in the third game.

Wilson was driven halfway to China by the Saints' Bruce Clark in Game 5 and suffered a shoulder separation.

And the line got more publicity than it wanted.

"That's all right," tackle Henry Lawrence told an early-season media breakfast. "You ought to hear what we say in the locker room about y'all."

Somewhere around midseason, after the shift to Ground Marcus, things began to turn. The Raiders allowed 33 sacks in the first nine games and 10 in the last seven. Shortly after his linemen had finished sprinkling Rolex brochures in his dressing cubicle at Anaheim, Marcus Allen became the first Raider rushing champion.

"I think we've got something good going," left tackle Bruce Davis said as the team prepared to play New England in the playoffs Sunday. "Certainly, the way we've been going, I think nothing but good can come from it.

"But it's always best to look back in retrospect and figure out when you peaked."

Davis, recently voted the line's MVP by teammates, is a seven-year man from UCLA who has seen things turn around more than once.

He spent his first three seasons deep in Art Shell's wide shadow. He started the next three, though he limped through '84 on wounded knees and lost his job to Shelby Jordan. There was speculation that Davis was a run-blocker on a pass-blocking team, and that his knees were going to be a problem.

"Did it bother me?" rumbled Davis, pulling himself up to his full 6 feet 6 inches.

"Hell yes, it bothered me. Once you've gotten a taste of playing and you still have any pride and dignity about you, you want to get your job back.

"I had two knee surgeries, both 'scope (after the '84 season). I had to wait until after the season. It wasn't a lot of fun. Plus, it wasn't something I was accomplished at doing. I'd usually stayed pretty healthy.

"I knew I could make it through but I was getting fluid on both knees. I had to have them drained, sometimes two-three times a week. Injections? Yeah, that's a given. Thank God, all that's over. Everybody has to do it one time or another."

And that time was upon half the Raider line.

In an exhibition last August, Jordan, the new left tackle, was blindsided and buried by Redskin linebacker Neal Olkewicz. Olkewicz then jumped up and grabbed his elbow. He was either in pain, swatting a mosquito or making a rude gesture over Jordan's fallen body. Olkewicz later apologized, but Jordan came out of it with a deep groin injury.

Curt Marsh, a former No. 1 pick from Washington considered one of the line's future stars, who'd won the left guard spot in '84, suffered a broken arm in training camp.

The Raiders reserved their one move off the preseason injured list for Marsh. Several young Raider players lobbied for his re-entry in the lineup, noting that Charley Hannah, the new left guard, could play Mickey Marvin's right guard spot. There were a number of newspaper stories in anticipation thereof.

But Marvin is still the right guard.

"This isn't a democracy," said Raider executive assistant Al LoCasale. 'Mickey has an immeasurable something, an innate toughness. You need that emotion out there. We had it with Gene Upshaw, grabbing a George Buehler in the huddle to get his attention.

"Mickey can do some things. And among the things he can do is pass block. When defenses go to a four-man line and put a man over him, it's a war. No one's going over him. He might not have all the technique, but it's a war."

Don Mosebar, another No. 1 and the line's other presumed star of the future, had won the right guard spot from Marvin in '84. Then Mosebar went out with an injury.

When he came back, the Raiders switched him to center behind long-time incumbent Dave Dalby. Nose guards were getting bigger, and the Raiders wanted to maintain their traditional size advantage. In the fourth game of the season, Mosebar went from heir apparent to heir in fact.

The new unit, from left to right, was Davis-Hannah-Mosebar-Marvin-Lawrence. ABC's O.J. Simpson said that the new conservatism helped the line, which wasn't going to out-finesse anyone and decided to get tough.

Davis said there wasn't an actual discussion, but . . .

"You look down the line of scrimmage and that's basically true, with the exception of Charley Hannah. I think Charley's as nimble as any guard in the league. But that's basically true of us."

Davis is 6-6 and 280. Lawrence is 6-4 and 270. Mosebar, a tackle at USC, where they know something about size, is a giant center at 6-6 and 270. Hannah, 6-5 and 260, was a tackle at Tampa Bay before the Raiders acquired him and switched him to guard. Marvin is 6-4 and 265.

"Another thing," Davis said. "Charley was new, but now we've been together on the left side for a year or so. Mickey Marvin and Henry Lawrence are playing well together on the right side. (Coach Tom Flores, in fact, makes unit substitutions, putting in a Marsh-Jordan right side late in some games).

"And Don Mosebar has taken a tremendous amount of pressure off the running game. He's stout enough to block nose guards one-on-one. That frees up our guards to run other combinations."

The hordes, kept at bay these many weeks, are regrouping under a red, white and blue Patriot banner. They're preparing their famous Tippett drill, for New England linebacker Andre Tippett. Film at 11.

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