QB Derek Carr and LB Khalil Mack are joined at the hip. They were selected 31 selections apart in the 2014 NFL Draft. Each was chosen to be a leader of their respective unit and they have each shown a maturity beyond their years. Carr claimed the quarterback job and became the first Raiders rookie to start all 16 games at quarterback. Mack dominated the point of attack, elicited double-teams, and by season's end, displayed the qualities of an explosive edge rusher.
Raiders.com visitors recently voted that Mack and Carr would be the most-improved second-year players. It only stands to reason that these two young leaders would address the media on the eve of the start of the 2015 off-season program.
A year ago, Carr arrived at the Raiders facility a natural born leader. However, he was a wide-eyed rookie with an 11-year veteran for whom the Raiders traded in front of him. By the end of the fourth preseason game, Carr had earned the starting job. Now, Carr is the leader in the locker room. He no longer has to bide his time or hold his tongue.
"It was good to get back into it and have, like, a real offseason, not Combine training and, 'Are you going to land here? What's your positives,' or your strengths and weaknesses – all those kinds of questions," Carr said. "I didn't have to worry about any of that. I just had to go out and train. I knew what I was training for this time. That was nice, these past – what is it – four months now, to just be out there knowing what I need to work on to help make my game better at the NFL level."
After the 2014 NFL Draft, Carr was running to catch-up. Then-offensive coordinator Greg Olson threw the entire playbook at the young signal-caller and Carr was adjusting to life in the NFL. Offseason workouts, Organized Team Activities (OTAs), mini-camps, events and activities filled the former Fresno State star's calendar. This year, Carr is much more relaxed heading into the offseason program and is much more comfortable with his role.
"It's nice this time, because at least I get an extra month, or really a month and a half, of getting to learn the playbook," Carr said. "That way, when we hit those mini-camps and all those things, I'm out there just teaching. I'm out there being exactly who I want to be."
The consummate perfectionist, Carr has spent the past few months reviewing the little things he could have done better as a rookie - those moments that could decide a game or even pick up just a few extra yards.
"The things that I wanted to go back and see, I did. Those were the things I needed to work on," Carr said. "I'm trying to look at what I did wrong, at decisions I made, maybe the way I prepared – everything rookies go through, all those things. But how can I take what I did, and the things I did good, and build on that and make it into who I am as a player. You're not going to do it in just two years. It's going to take a little time, but my jump from my first year to my second year is crucial to me."
As he looks ahead to this season, Carr is looking forward to working with new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave. The Raiders offense promises to be more suited to Carr's skills and is much more like what he ran at Fresno State.
"I'm really excited, because just what I've heard and the things that we've talked about and what I assume, it is what I did at Fresno. It's something that I'm comfortable doing. The things that they want to do are things that I'm good at, and that's really cool," Carr explained. "This coaching staff, just walking around and talking to them, it's like a family. You feel like you've known them for like 20 years when you just go up and talk to them. I don't feel like it will be that big of a transition, really, for our team."
He is also looking forward to his second offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program, this time with a new crew and approach in the weight room.
"Number one thing to me is the strength and conditioning portion of it is so important, because of the hits we take, especially at our position," Carr said. "I've gotten drastically stronger than I was this time last year, so hopefully it'll pay off."
It'll be up to Carr to help install the offense during OTAs and display his natural leaderships skills with no holds barred. Mack, on the other hand, takes a different approach when it comes to leadership.
"They want me to be a guy that steps in. [Head Coach] Jack [Del Rio] understands the type of guy I am," Mack said. "I told him I like to go out and use my actions to speak loudly. He understands that being a defensive LB guy."
Despite a rookie season in which he received high praise throughout the football journalism world, Mack did not record a sack until Week 11 at San Diego. His four sacks were second to DE Justin Tuck's team-leading five. Mack says he is excited to continue to develop and take on more of a leadership role.
With his ever-present smile and easy-going demeanor, it's easy to forget Mack is a violent defender. He said he identifies with his new head coach and defensive coordinator, both of whom played linebacker in the NFL.
"That's the part I'm looking forward to the most. You can tell that Jack really cares. He has that kind of laid back spirit like that [linebacker]," Mack said. "When it gets real, when the guys go off and the fire starts and the intensity goes up, you can sense that he's ready for that moment. I'm ready to play for him."
The Raiders coaching staff now features 102 years of playing experience, numerous playoff appearances, multiple Super Bowl titles and a Hall of Famer. Mack respects and appreciates that his coaches and many of his teammates, like Tuck, know how to win championships.
"Just from the experience in the room now, you have guys that have been there, that's what you need on the team, the experience and the leadership of those people that have gone on to that level and have been there," Mack said. "It's going to be exciting to see."
Mack knows, through his own experience and from working with veteran players, how important it is for him to take care of his body to withstand the rigors of an NFL campaign.
"You have to be ready. If you're not, you are going to get thrown around out there, so you have to take care of your body every day of the week," Mack said. "You have to think about hydration, stretching, different things, like getting massages. Things that you have to take pride in and taking care of your body. I've learned that from all of the veteran guys that I've been around."
As the Raiders prepare for the 2015 NFL Draft and get the offseason program underway, two cornerstones of the franchise are hard at work developing their games and their leadership skills.