The Oakland Raiders are playing the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, and there's no shortage of storylines surrounding the affair; however, there is one that is flying under-the-radar.
Former Ram and current Raiders tight end Derek Carrier played an important role for the Southern California squad last year, serving as an integral piece in the blocking scheme. So much gets made about the flashy positions, and highlight-reel plays, but it's the battles in the trenches that make all of that possible.
Carrier has built the reputation of a quality blocking tight end, and his contributions on offense helped free up running lanes for last year's MVP candidate Todd Gurley – who totaled an absurd 2,093 scrimmage yards, and 19 touchdowns. The hope is that he'll be able to provide the same kind of blocking support in Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense, and let Marshawn Lynch, and the rest of the Raiders backs run rampant.
Thursday afternoon, Carrier's former coach Sean McVay shared via conference call what stood out about him when he coached No. 85 a season ago.
"I think it's his versatility," McVay said. "I think he's a lot better athlete than people give him credit for. He's got the ability to play as part of the core, he can play in the slot, he can play the flex, he can give you some two back looks. He can play as a moveable piece, as a tight end or on the line of scrimmage. Anytime you're able to have versatile players, like Derek Carrier is, it gives you a chance offensively to present a variety of looks to a defense. Guys like him are very valuable. I think he's also got great leverage, great athleticism, balance. So there is a lot of different things that make Derek a really good football player and he's somebody who has gotten better and better as his career has progressed."
The seven-year veteran started out with the Silver and Black back in 2012 as an undrafted free agent and bounced around before eventually landing back in Oakland. In the time he's been here, Gruden has utilized Carrier similarly to the way McVay did, as a blocker, but he's also showed glimpses of his receiving abilities while catching passes from Derek Carr.
"I just think it's something that has always been a part of me just growing up, I always played multiple sports," Carrier said in regards to his versatility. "Just kind of being versatile, being athletic was kind of always in my DNA. When I got to the NFL I got moved to tight end and kind of just took some of the skills that I learned in my younger years and just developed those even further."
Over the course of his NFL career, Carrier has only one touchdown to his name, but through OTAs and training camp, he's built quite the rapport with his new quarterback. Carr has targeted Carrier plenty of times through practice, and it'll be interesting to see just how much the two connect in 2018. Carrier attributes his chemistry with Carr to extended practice reps, and simply just spending more time with one another.
"Getting all the reps through training camp and OTAs is when a lot of it's built," he explained. "The foundation is built in OTAs, it's solidified in training camp, and you put it out ready to work when the season rolls around."
When Monday night arrives, Carrier isn't expecting to feel a certain way when facing his former team, and shared that he will always think fondly of his time there.
"It was a great experience," he said. "Sean is an unbelievable coach, unbelievable leader, and I think the big takeaway was just being able to play… recognize everything, and be able to execute it quickly."