Editor’s note: Scott Bair is in Indianapolis to cover the NFL Combine. Check back for his comprehensive coverage and catch his nightly updates on SportsNet Central.
INDIANAPOLIS –- The Raiders remodeled their offense last offseason, using significant resources available to surround quarterback Derek Carr with talent.
This year, it’s the defense’s turn for a tune up. Head coach Jack Del Rio made that clear on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, definitively stating that his defense will look different and play better in 2016.
“We’re going to tackle better. We’re going to play better and have a better defense next year,” Del Rio said. “That has to happen.”
While the Raiders need help at inside linebacker and could use more pass rushers, their top priority will be addressing a lackluster secondary weakened further by Charles Woodson’s retirement.
[BAIR: Combine preview: Key offseason for Raiders defense]
The Raiders will add defensive backs by any means necessary, determined to make it a feared unit.
“We have to attack our secondary with draft picks and free agents,” Del Rio said. “We’re going to do that. We’re going to add talent to that group and make it really competitive.
“It’ll be similar to how we attacked wide receiver and tight end last year, where you go out and find a couple guys (at the combine) that you like. Then you add a few free agents to the mix and make that area much more competitive.”
Last year, the Raiders added veteran free agent Lee Smith and third-round draft pick Clive Walford to the tight end group. Last year, they added No. 4 overall selection Amari Cooper and free agent Michael Crabtree to a woefully thin receiver corps.
The Raiders could use high draft picks and free agent dollars to address a defensive backfield that has few sure things. Cornerback David Amerson could be penciled into the starting lineup after the waiver claim had four interceptions and 26 passes defensed as a Raider.
TJ Carrie is in the mix at either corner or safety. Nate Allen was re-signed and could play free safety if he can stay healthy and effective. Cornerback and 2013 first-round pick DJ Hayden played less as last season wore on despite staying healthy for the first time as a pro.
Del Rio made it clear incumbents wouldn’t be given special treatment.
“For TJ (Carrie) and everybody else that’s returning, they’re going to need to compete and earn their way,” Del Rio said. “…Our secondary is going to be attacked this offseason with talent. Guys who are there are going to have to compete.”