ALAMEDA (AP) — Trying to stop Denver’s pass rush tandem of defensive end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Von Miller would be a tough challenge for the winless Raiders under the best circumstances.
Doing it without a key starter certainly won’t make it any easier.
Rookie left guard Gabe Jackson remains sidelined with a knee injury and is likely to miss a game for the first time this season. Khalif Barnes, who started the first four games of the year at right tackle, has been practicing at left guard in Jackson’s absence.
While Barnes has plenty of experience at the position, moving him inside takes away a key component of Oakland’s plans to slow down Ware and Miller. When he’s not starting, Barnes frequently lines up on the outside as an extra tight end to help block.
“It compounds the situation in a lot of ways,” Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano said Thursday. “Khalif really hasn’t played inside this year. He has played inside in the past.”
Barnes started five games at left guard in 2013 and spent this past offseason there before moving to right tackle just before the start of the regular season.
Menelik Watson took over in Week 6 when Barnes went down with a quad injury. Now both are likely to be in the lineup when Oakland attempts to snap a 14-game losing streak that dates to last year.
“Khalif’s kind of been a jack of all trades for me since I got here so that doesn’t really bother me,” Sparano said.
Still, the Raiders would feel much better about their prospects if Barnes was available to help on the edges against Miller and Ware. The duo has combined for 17 sacks, with Miller’s nine being second in the NFL only to Justin Houston of Kansas City, who has 12.
Ware and Miller are the eighth pair of teammates since 1982 to have at least eight sacks apiece through the first eight games of a season.
“They’re probably in and affecting the quarterback 15 times a game in one way, shape or form,” Sparano said. “That’s pretty consistent.”
It figures to be the toughest test yet for an Oakland offensive line that has held up fairly well in pass protection. Quarterback Derek Carr has been sacked only eight times while the Raiders have given up nine total — tied with the Broncos for the fewest in the NFL this season.
Left tackle Donald Penn said Miller and Ware are among the best in the business.
“Like I told Menelik, these are the games that make your name,” Penn said. “That’s how I got my name out there, shutting down the best elite pass rushers coming up in my career. I’m going to get both of them for sure. They find a way to get to quarterbacks so we have to find a way to keep them off of him.”
Jackson, Oakland’s third-round pick this year, has started every game so far as a rookie. He was hurt late in the fourth quarter of last week’s 30-24 loss in Seattle.
Sparano has declined to rule Jackson out, though at this point it seems unlikely he’ll play.
Notes: CB Carlos Rogers (knee) and backup Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) remain sidelined. TE David Ausberry (foot) is also out. ... PR TJ Carrie (ankle) was limited in practice, as was DE Justin Tuck (knee). ... WR Kenbrell Thompkins was not at practice because of personal reasons.