On August 31, AJ McCarron lived in upstate New York.
His head coach was Sean McDermott, and he was about to start preparations for the team’s regular season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
Then, on September 1, the fifth-year veteran was traded to the Oakland Raiders – less than five months after he joined the Bills – so he packed his bags, and hopped on a flight to California.
Fast forward 24 hours, and McCarron was on the practice field at the Raiders practice facility, embarking on yet another journey – trying to learn Head Coach Jon Gruden’s offense just eight days before the team opened the regular season.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world,” said McCarron following Thursday’s practice. “I’m trying my hardest, [quarterbacks coach] [Brian] Callahan is doing a great job of working with me. I’ve been coming in really early, spending a lot of time, staying late, so God forbid something happens, hopefully I can go out there and manage it pretty well.”
“It’ll be a challenge, obviously, if he has to go in and play but it’s a challenge for any backup quarterback to go in and play,” added Coach Gruden. “But I like McCarron. I think a lot of people in the league like McCarron, that’s pretty obvious. He’s got big upside, we’ll try to get him ready if need be.”
Following the release of both Connor Cook and EJ Manuel, McCarron is now the only quarterback not named Derek Carr on the roster, and because of that, the former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide is essentially just one play away from being called into action.
Subsequently, McCarron’s football education has been put in hyper speed.
Like the Raiders signal-caller said, he’s come in early, and stayed late since arriving in the Bay Area, and while Gruden’s offense is different than the one he was learning in Buffalo, he’s been able to fall back on the knowledge he’s collected over a lifetime playing quarterback.
“It’s two, totally different types of schemes, thought process, so it’s definitely different, but you still run a lot of same plays, no matter what system you’re in,” McCarron explained. “It’s just lingo, formations, and everything else, that you have to get used to, but it’s just a learning process, and just enjoy it.”
Also key to that education has been the assistance of Brian Callahan, who has been with McCarron during those early mornings and late nights.
“He [Callahan] is awesome,” McCarron said. “He really is. I truly thank him for spending as much time as he has with me, and he’s been great. He’s very smart. He comes from a good teacher in his dad, and he’s definitely a bright coach, for sure.”
Now in his fifth NFL season, and his third professional offense, there isn’t much schematically that’s new to McCarron, and that background has been helpful in keeping him level as he continues to progress through Gruden’s playbook.
“I do a pretty good of managing that,” McCarron said when asked about not becoming overwhelmed by information. “When it comes to knowing football, I think I’m pretty smart. You can only play so many defenses, and I mean, it’s just being real familiar and knowing really the ins and outs of the offense, so listen, like I said, God forbid, I get in there, it’s not going to be perfect, but I know how to battle and keep trying.”
If all goes to plan, McCarron won’t have to take the field Monday night, but if he does, expect No. 2 to be ready.
He’ll have to be.
“I’m trying to learn everything that D.C.’s doing, and that they’ve been doing the past nine months, McCarron said. “So trying to do the best I can in three days or four days, or however many days it’s been.”