Mini camp has started and the NFL regular season is just four months away. The Oakland Raiders have had quite an offseason this year eschewing their normal practice of signing big-name, big-money free agents and instead concentrating on re-signing their own would be free agents and building from a young core sprinkled with some veteran experience.
We will all soon see how the Raiders' formula this offseason compares to last years spending spree disaster. While the Raiders were not that active in signing other teams' free agents, they did sign a few select ones that they believe will have an impact on this years squad, be it from filling a hole or providing experience to a position that is lacking it.
The four free agents that the Raiders have signed which they believe will impact the team this season are:
- Khalif Barnes: The Raiders made a lot of effort to upgrade their offensive line this offseason, so much so during free agency that they felt comfortable not drafting an offensive linemen in this year's draft. Khalif Barnes was one of their early signings and though he struggled last season with the Jaguars, Tom Cable and his coaching staff believe that they can resurrect Barnes' career and turn him into a dominate lineman fitting in the Raiders system. The Raiders have Barnes on a one year contract, so he needs to prove his worth to get a long-term deal done for the next year. His play, good or bad, will no doubt have an impact on the Raiders this season.
- Jeff Garcia: JaMarcus Russell is at the critical stage of his career with this season being the season that he needs to rise to the next level and become the elite QB we expect. No question, that last season, with an inexperienced coaching staff coupled with a lack of veteran experience at quarterback, inhibited the ability for Russell to gain valuable knowledge the intricacies of the NFL game. The signing of Garcia not only fills the back up position with an experienced QB who can step right in and lead, but Garcia is basically an extra QB coach. Garcia will motivate and push Russell to excellence and even if he is with the Raiders for only one season, he should have the impact on Russell that will determine Russell's future.
- Ryan Boschetti: We know all too well about the Raiders' woes at stopping the run, with much heavy criticism being placed on the defensive line and in particular the defensive tackle position. Was it scheme and use of talent employed by former DC Rob Ryan? Was it the linebacker and safeties? Or was it the offenses propensity to be three and out, thus gassing the tackles to the point where they became less effective? We shall soon find out, as the Raiders probably believe that it is a combination of those two questions, because they felt good enough about their current DT's and coaching staff not to draft a defensive tackle. Ryan Boschetti was kind of an under-the-radar free agent signing that could have a bigger impact for the Raiders defense than his name suggests. Boschetti has the size and motor to be a part of the rotation that will allow more versatility among the other DT's such as Kelly who can go to DE when needed. He will help keep the rotation fresh, is a high character guy and extremely hard worker who will push and motivate the players around him.
- Lorenzo Neal: The Raiders just signed the 38 year old fullback just before the start of this weekend mini camp. We all hope that Oren O'Neal is Lorenzo Neal 2.0, but with O'Neal still recovering from major knee surgery, the signing of Neal was huge. Though the Raiders are going to try to become more balanced on offense, this team is still a running team. And why not, with the great talent they have in the backfield, the Raiders should be in position to dominate on the ground. The game may not have ever seen anybody better as a blocking fullback than Lorenzo Neal. The man just consistently blows up linebackers and paves the way for 1000 yard rushers, year in and year out. With McFadden and Bush still young and learning the game, there may be no better mentor and leader for that group than Neal. If the Raiders can now score TD's instead of field goals and keep their defense off the field more, it may well be because of Neal and his impact to the running game.