We’ve seen this new Raiders roster in snippets, during occasional offseason practices open to the press. We’ve been given clear examples of chemistry during this growth period, more often in team-sanctioned photos and individual Instagram stories.
That’s an objective during a relatively slow stretch, with games still months away.
Intensity elevates in training camp later this month, and mettle will be tested with pads and physicality and Napa’s never-ending work schedule. Then things get real when guys start getting cut and this team finally starts playing for keeps.
That’s when we’ll see how much of an impact these new veterans have on a Raiders roster skewing dramatically younger. Leaders must be stable during tough times, making others better with words and, far more often, with action. Here are three veteran additions who should make the greatest overall impact on the 2019 Raiders:
WR Antonio Brown
Brown might be the NFL’s hardest worker. The man never quits, going full speed in every practice and walk-through, with individual side sessions at high schools and Bay Area parks after being acquired in a trade. He takes workouts on vacation, finding time to get better while in Maui. He crowd-sourced workout partners in Paris. While many do as much without putting it all on social media, Brown is showing everyone, teammates included, that his grind never stops.
He has set a new standard for work rate and practice effort, which should lead to major on-field production. That, above all else, will be his greatest contribution in 2019. Putting up just average numbers (for him) would be a huge boon for all things Raiders, and give the Silver and Black a true superstar who comes through in the clutch.
All is good right now, but it will be important for Brown to maintain positive energy even when things hit the skids during the regular season. The Raiders will have rough patches navigating a brutal schedule. Brown’s used to 10 wins per year. How will he handle losing streaks? That will be as important as anything. If he keeps working hard for better days, the skill players will follow suit. If he sulks, lulls could last longer.
DB Lamarcus Joyner
Joyner isn’t much of a rah-rah guy, but he’s highly respected throughout the talented young secondary. Safeties love him. Cornerbacks respect him. Both positions can learn something from someone who has done it well for a long time.
While he focused on slot cornerback during this offseason program, his impact will be felt in several areas. He’s undoubtedly the team’s best free safety and can slide over there in the base defense if the Karl Joseph/Johnathan Abram pairing doesn’t pan out.
He should be a stabilizing force in the entire secondary both as a sage and a productive player who can quiet part of an opponent’s passing game. He isn’t afraid to mix things up and can make others better around him, making this secondary far better than it was a year ago. Joyner didn’t come cheap in free agency, but he’ll be worth the freight if he plays to his high standard and helps others improve during the season either through words or example.
LB Vontaze Burfict
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther says there were aspects of his defensive scheme he didn’t use last year without a trusted field general to execute it.
That’s not a slight on Tahir Whitehead or Nicholas Morrow. Guenther’s defense can be complicated and takes time to master. Nobody, however, knows it better than Burfict. The veteran linebacker ran it for years in Cincinnati and has a kinship with Guenther that is evident on the field.
Burfict’s a Raider now, and he has been helpful teaching subtle nuances of this scheme to his teammates despite being a new kid in town. He has been a great asset during the offseason, and he will be again in training camp.
He’ll have to prove productive to sustain a positive impact. His last season was a struggle, with injuries and concussion issues sapping his availability and effectiveness. He’s on this list due to a belief he’ll get right and be effective in the base defense at least. Burfict has been a solid tackler and tone-setter who plays right on the edge, sometimes going over it, in his past. Finding vintage on-field form and sustained health will be key to maximizing his impact. That’s important for a defense that needs Burfict at his best.