The Raiders whiffed three times within a seven-year span in an attempt to find a top-notch left offensive tackle via the NFL draft. Twelve years since the first of those swings, they appear to have found what they were looking for in Jared Veldheer.

Veldheer cracked the starting lineup six games into his rookie season and has developed into the kind of player the Raiders think can be a linchpin of their offensive line for years to come.

"He is starting to do all the little things right over and over and over," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "That's really the sign of a good lineman. He is smart, very tough and very competitive. He comes with that ingredient. He is a very detail-oriented guy, and he hates to fail. He has that great drive about him. He wants to do it right, he wants to do it exactly the way you asked him to do it."

Veldheer was somewhat of an unknown commodity because he played at Division II Hillsdale (Mich.) College, a far cry from the SEC or the Big Ten, the powerhouse conferences that spawned the previous three offensive tackles the Raiders drafted in the first round -- Mo Collins, Matt Stinchcomb and Robert Gallery.

So it was that the Raiders waited until the third round to select Veldheer in this year's draft.

The Raiders coveted Veldheer's size -- 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds -- work ethic, intelligence and impressive resume. Veldheer didn't allow a sack in high school or college.

Yet, they weren't sure how Veldheer's talents would translate to the NFL. He allayed some concerns, Cable said, with impressive showings against Division I players in postseason all-star games after his senior season.


Advertisement

Veldheer said he felt more confident in his ability to make the sizable leap to the NFL once he squared off against other players destined for the NFL. More important, he refused to get overwhelmed by the prospect of the challenge.

"Most of it is just a mindset," Veldheer said. "It's you vs. 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."

Veldheer has held up well in his eight starts since replacing four-year veteran Mario Henderson -- they split time the five games before Cable made the switch. Indianapolis Colts All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney figures to give Veldheer a stern test Sunday.

"You have to take your hat off to the guy, it's not easy to play in the NFL at left tackle as a rookie," Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell said. "That means, every week you're going to face probably the best defensive player on that side of the ball, week in, week out. "... I have a lot of trust in him."

Freeney typically has his way with most offensive tackles. So, perhaps it's not surprising to learn that he isn't that impressed with Veldheer.

"He's done a decent job," Freeney said. "He hasn't done an overly great job. He's definitely hung in there, but "... they're going to be protecting him a little bit, which is not a surprise."

Cable is bolstered in his belief that Veldheer is up for the challenge based on what he has seen from his prized pupil so far this season.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 7, Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali blew past Veldheer for a sack of Campbell on one play. Hali used the same move in overtime. This time, Veldheer responded with a block of Hali that enabled Campbell to complete a deep pass to wide receiver Jacoby Ford.

Veldheer sought advice from offensive line coach Jim Michalczik after he got beat by Hali and filed it away.

"He went right to what he knew and what he was taught," Cable said. "He did it. That's why he's having the success he's having. He's a brilliant young guy who just has loads of talent, but he strives to be great. That's a gift. You can't teach that one."

sunday's game
Indianapolis at Raiders, 1:05 p.m., CBS