ALAMEDA (AP) — Playing left tackle as a rookie in the NFL is a tough enough task under normal conditions.
When Indianapolis pass-rushing specialist Dwight Freeney is lined up on the other side it becomes even more of a challenge.
That’s the situation facing Oakland’s Jared Veldheer, who will be counted on to protect Jason Campbell’s blind side Sunday from one of the best speed rushers in the NFL in a game the Raiders (7-7) need to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“Normally what happens is when I go against a rookie, there’s two other guys with him,” Freeney said in a conference call with Bay Area media. “I’m sure they’re going to scheme and not going to just leave him by himself. That wouldn’t be too smart.”
Freeney estimates that he gets single coverage for dropback passes only a handful of times a game even against veterans.
Veldheer figures to get plenty of help, whether it comes from another offensive lineman, a tight end or a chipping running back.
It will be needed against Freeney, who has eight sacks this season. He is also tied for the most sacks with 92 and has forced the most fumbles with 41 since entering the NFL in 2002.
That’s not exactly the kind of competition Veldheer faced while playing at Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan last year.
“Most of it is just a mindset,” Veldheer said. “It’s you versus another person. No one is Superman with a cape out there. Everyone is wearing a helmet and shoulder pads and you just got to go out there and execute and do your job better than the guy across from you.”
Making the task even tougher for the Raiders is the fact that starting right tackle Langston Walker’s status is in doubt after sustaining a concussion last week.
That could force Mario Henderson into his first career start at that position against the Colts’ other star pass rusher, Robert Mathis.
“That’s the real key to their defense—they’re both really good players,” coach Tom Cable said. “They get after the ball so you have to have a plan for both of them and we’ll do that. But you can’t just put your attention to one side and not the other. You have to do it with both of them.”
Veldheer, a third-round pick, was thrown right into the NFL mix this season when he started the season opener at center against Tennessee.
That experiment didn’t go so well and he spent the next five weeks sharing time at left tackle with Henderson before earning the starting job at that critical spot on the offensive line.
“It’s just kind of a gradual thing,” Veldheer said. “There was never a point where hey, I feel this is all of a sudden clicked and the light turned on and all that. It’s just over the course of everything happening, really, almost every day, every practice of the season.”
The Raiders have won five of eight games with Veldheer starting at left tackle. They are fourth in the league in scoring since then at 29.1 points per game and second in total offense at 395.6 yards.
According to STATS LLC, Veldheer has allowed six sacks this season, while committing six false starts and four holding penalties.
“I always am trying to pick things out of my game and improve on them,” Veldheer said. “There’s always room for improvement. I don’t think you can ever be satisfied with any one performance because if you think it’s perfect you’re really lying to yourself because you can always improve.”
Veldheer is earning the confidence of his teammates with his play, who know how tough a spot left tackle is in the NFL.
“That means every week you’re going to face probably the best defensive player on that side of the ball, week in, week out,” Campbell said. “I think he’s come a long ways. I think he’s found himself in a position. … I have a lot of trust in him.”
Notes: The Raiders cut LB Quentin Scott from the practice squad to make room for punter Danny Braugher. Regular punter Shane Lechler is nursing a strained hamstring but expects to be able to play Sunday. … DT Richard Seymour did not practice with a hamstring injury. … CB Nnamdi Asomugha was limited with an ankle injury.
(© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)