Derek Carr's command performance in Week 4 of 2014 preseason helped him earn the Raiders starting quarterback job. Raiders.com Photo.
Derek Carr's college resume spoke for itself as far as statistics were concerned. He led the country in passing yards and touchdown passes during his senior season at Fresno State. What was not as obvious were Carr's leadership abilities or his personality.
Carr admitted he held back some of his traits when he arrived in Oakland in 2014. The extremely confident 2nd round Draft choice knew his place. "When I came in, out of respect I can't go out and just be the alpha male, dominant leader, because it really wasn't my team yet," Carr said. "I was going to come in and be myself, but I couldn't assert my leadership role and all that."
By the end of the preseason, and after a sparkling performance against the then-defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Carr had earned the starting quarterback job. Within weeks, the Bakersfield, California-native no longer felt like a rookie.
"I didn't feel like a rookie as soon as [then-New York Jets head coach] Rex Ryan brought a couple of cover-zero blitzes at me in the first week, I didn't feel like it," Carr quipped.
Carr continued to exert his influence and earn the respect of his teammates throughout the season. At one point during the Raiders loss to the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in London, Carr was injured while scrambling. He had to be practically dragged off the field.
The young gunslinger weathered a coaching change and rehabilitated from the injuries suffered abroad and got himself ready to start against the San Diego Chargers coming out of the bye week. Carr tossed four touchdown passes, including a 77-yard bomb to WR Andre Holmes on the third play from scrimmage in the face of an all-out blitz, as the Silver and Black almost pulled the upset. Late in the game, Carr went deep to WR Brice Butler and rookie CB Jason Verrett made a game-saving interception for the Chargers.
Within weeks, Carr was leading the Raiders to their first win of the season as he hit WR James Jones for what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown pass.
"There were a couple of times where I felt like I should have done something different. It wasn't anything big, nothing that anyone would go, 'Really, that's what you're mad at?' It wasn't anything big, but to me, it's a big deal. I want to be perfect," Carr explained. "I'm going to continue to be smart with the football. I'm going to continue to take care of it, because that's how you win football games."
Two weeks later, he played a solid, efficient game and threw three touchdown passes in a win over the San Francisco 49ers. Two weeks after that, Carr showed his signature tenacity and critical moment playmaking ability against the Buffalo Bills. During a key sequence in the game, leading 19-17 with 5:06 left in the 4th quarter, Carr connected with Holmes for a 51-yard gain on 3rd and 22. That play set up a short TD pass to FB Jamize Olawale that effectively iced the game.
During the ups and downs of the Raiders 3-13 season, Carr was constantly praising his teammates for good plays, encouraging and instructing them after bad ones, and thoroughly enjoying several visceral moments throughout the campaign.
Heading into his second season, Carr has different questions. He is no longer wondering what he has to do to earn playing time. He doesn't have to hold his personality or natural leadership back.
"Now, it's really nice and it's going to make it a lot easier to go out and be myself," Carr said. "I don't have to come in and hold back a little bit. I can come in and be myself from the beginning and lead our team."
Carr also doesn't have to worry so much about the playbook. New Raiders Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave promised to bring in an up-tempo offense, one with which Carr is intimately familiar.
"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," Carr said. "The success that I've seen it have, the success that I've had in it, the success that a lot of the players that we have, have had in that kind of offense, it just kind of has brought in an excitement around our locker room that has guys fired up."
"We'll be chomping at the bit, as the spring proceeds, to get out on the field with [the players]," Coach Musgrave recently told Raiders.com's Rebecca Corman. "The first day that they'll be here is April 7 so that can't get here fast enough because the cupboard is definitely not bare on offense. We've got some good young players, some veteran guys and we can't wait to fit them into our system."
Coach Musgrave has nothing but positive things to say about Carr as well.
"Derek is a terrific young man, he's made a good first impression on a lot of people," Coach Musgrave said. "We're looking forward to surrounding him with some talent and some options that will be at his disposal. The offense his was in in Fresno was very diverse, but he's got a lot of time on task being in the shotgun, doing some zone reads, throwing on the run, and those are things we did in Philadelphia. We'll want to have our own identity."
Many have compared Carr to former Raiders QB Rich Gannon. The former NFL MVP recently spoke to Silver and Black Productions at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine about what Carr brings to the Silver and Black.
"I'm just so excited for him, the future and what he brings to the table, I thought he showed great toughness," Gannon said. "Typically we see the most improvement from year one to year two in the offense. You hate to see a quarterback like that go through a coordinator change. I think they got a good one in Bill Musgrave, I know Bill, I think that's going to be a good mesh between Bill and Derek. I think it's great that he got a chance to play a lot of football last year. I was very, very impressed with what I saw from Derek."
With his grounded, fun-loving nature and his natural leadership abilities, year two should be quite the experience for Derek Carr and the Raiders.