Mention the name Mike Brisiel to a Raider fan and you will likely get a response that would fit nicely into the ‘if you can’t say something nice’ category. Brisiel was really Reggie McKenzie’s first ‘big’ money signing, or big money compared to the money available to spend anyway and big things were expected in 2012 from the former Hamburg Sea Devils star in NFL Europe.
Brisiel’s signing initially was welcomed by Raider fans who recognised a need for help on the offensive line and Brisiel was coming of a quality season as part of the Houston Texans dominant offensive line, blocking for elite rusher Arian Foster. The same Texans offense that offensive coordinator Greg Knapp was trying to replicate in Oakland and bringing in Brisiel as an experienced player in his zone blocking system was expected to speed up the learning curve for the rest of the OL.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Knapp’s offense was for the most part a disaster and other than Knapp nobody felt the wrath of the Raider Nation more than Brisiel and performance wise it’s hard to argue that it was unwarranted. Brisiel was a disaster especially in run blocking which was a major thing he was brought in to do.
Brisiel finished the season the 74th ranked guard according to pro football focus which was clearly not what the Raiders were looking for from their first ‘big name’ signing. His poor play coupled with his connection to Knapp and big was bad news for Brisiel with much of the Raider Nation ready to throw him out with Knapp.
The criticism of Brisiel (and Reggie) for the contract was a little unfair as he actually only made $1.4 million dollars last year not the $4 million that people like to throw around. But even at 1.4 million he was overpaid based on his performance, despite any injuries troubles he was having and was due to earn $3.85 million in 2013. Being a team player Brisiel agreed to reduce his 2013 salary down to $2.8 million but would have to have a Pryor-esque improvement in performance to earn that money.
So far, he has done exactly that.
One of the big reasons aside from his well below average performance many Raider fans were ready to see the back of Brisiel was that he was known as a ‘zone blocking specialist’. After seeing the experiment of trying to convert guys more suited to the power blocking system fail so terribly many expected similar results in converting Brisiel to the power scheme.
However, Brisiel has taken to the new system like a duck to water and he has been one of the best players on a much improved offensive line under the guidance of super experienced offensive line coach Tony Sparano. With injury issues behind him and some quality coaching, Brisiel has not just improved from 2012, according to Pro Football Focus rankings he is the 10th rated guard in the entire NFL so for in 2013.
Mike has infinite improvement in the two areas that drove Raider fans crazy last season, run blocking and only giving up one penalty thus far this season, more than repaying the faith shown in him by McKenzie and the coaching staff.
If this Raider offensive line gets full healthy with Jared Veldheer, Stefan Wisniewski, Khalif Barnes and another guy playing at a pro bowl level, Tony Pashos, the Raiders have the makings of a dominant offensive line. With a dynamic athlete like Pryor, who can also throw, the Raiders have some foundation pieces on offense for years to come.
Brisiel still gets a lot of ill will in the Nation. Fans are not quick to forget his awful 2012 but so far in 2013 he has gone a significant way to restoring the excellent reputation around the league. If he keeps up his pro bowl level play for the rest of the season it won’t be long until the greater Raider Nation start to embrace this hard worker and he will make the transition from Raider Nations biggest villains to one of their most popular.
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