Headed into the offseason there was a pervasive thought that the Oakland Raiders would focus primarily on two areas to improve on headed into 2019 – address the need for a pass rusher along the defensive line, and give Derek Carr a few more toys to work with.
Well, after adding Clelin Ferrell, and Maxx Crosby, while also welcoming back Johnathan Hankins and Benson Mayowa into the fold, the defensive line certainly looks more formidable than it did just a few months ago, as does the collection of weapons that Carr has at his disposal.
"We've also tried to improve his [Carr's] supporting cast at every level," said Head Coach Jon Gruden following his team's first of 10 Organized Team Activities Tuesday afternoon. "We tried to improve our defense. Hopefully we get the ball to him more often in better field position. We added some receivers. We've added a running back. We've added a couple linemen, so hopefully a lot of these things will show up, and he'll be a great quarterback, which I know he will be."
And to say that the Silver and Black added a "few" receivers might be a bit of an understatement, as the Raiders currently have seven wide receivers – and two tight ends, and a running back – that weren't with the team in 2018.
"A lot of new faces, right," Carr said. "It's crazy what 12 months does. A whole new group, new challenge of getting on the same page, and things like that. The one thing I've seen about this group is they work crazy hard. A lot of people say they do, but these guys – they're texting me saying, 'hey, I'm in town, let's go.' I'll get off my couch, I'll bring my kids, and we'll go throw. It's nice to see how hard they want to work, and how great they want to be. Obviously, every quarterback wants to do that, but to have wideouts reaching out, saying, 'man, let's go do this.' It's pretty cool."
With seven Pro Bowls to his name, and four All-Pro nods, Antonio Brown is – for good reason – the marquee name in the that group off playmaking additions for Carr, but from AB, to Tyrell Williams, Luke Willson, and even undrafted free agent Keelan Doss, the Silver and Black's trigger man will unquestionably have a dynamic group of playmakers to work with headed into 2019.
That said, with all the new additions now on the roster, Carr will spend the next several months building up a rapport with all of his new offensive teammates, a task aided by the way that the Raiders conduct meetings.
"The cool thing about is, the way we meet, we always meet together, and it's an open dialogue," Carr explained. "People are talking. Coach is talking. We're having a conversation, and what does it gives you those extra three or four hours, whatever the meetings are – it gives you that extra time to hear each other's voice, to hear each other's thoughts, whereas usually you just separate and you're by position, and then you meet up on the field, and that's not the case here. It's really helped things go along faster, but really just spending time together, getting to know each other."
In addition to the style of meetings the Raiders hold, the team is also aided in their quest to get everyone up to speed offensively that Carr is in his second year in Gruden's system.
And while that familiarity is something some quarterbacks could take for granted, Carr does not fall in that category.
"Now I have a whole year, a whole offseason, Phase I, Phase II under my belt," Carr said. "Now I'm going into this like, yeah, I got this, and to say it the best way, it's just kind of nice. It's not comforting in any way, but it's nice to know I'm speaking the same language. I don't have to learn a whole new set of terminology, and more importantly, I know Coach Gruden, the way he thinks now. I've played a season with him, to know what he expects on this down and distance, and when he calls a certain play, I know what he wants to me look for, and if it's not there, get to this."
Coming off a four-win campaign a year ago, if the Raiders want to return to relevance in the AFC West, they'll need a big season from No. 4, but with all the new additions, as well as a year of experience for Carr, Gruden is optimistic with what he'll see from the sixth-year pro.
"He's pretty well respected as one of the best arm talents in football," Gruden said. "I think he's a lot more athletic than people think. I think if we can get some continuity here in this building, with the system and with the supporting cast, and we can improve the defense, I think he can be one of the best in football. I'm going to hold him to that standard, and I think that's what he wants."
Start the week out with photos from the Raiders' last day of offseason workouts before they head into OTAs.