After the buzz of the blockbuster trade deadline deal has waned and it comes the time when a much needed divisional win is needed on Sunday, Hue Jackson and company will have decided if Carson Palmer begins his
Raiders career with a headset or behind center. There are several factors involved in this decision and for the purpose of this article we'll examine several of them and try and peek five days into the future as the Chiefs come to town.
Familiarity with the offense is huge. The fact that Carson was recruited by Hue Jackson at USC and their history extends on into the NFL as Jackson handled the wide receivers for the Cincinnati Bengals during the early part of Carson's professional career is comforting not only in his possible preparation for this Sunday but future Sundays in Silver and Black. Does Hue run the same offense as they ran at USC or Cincinnati? No, although many of the concepts have similarity, terminology, keys, reads, options, and formations utilized are either different or called something different. There is a significant learning curve here, especially at the quarterback position.
Plays or Route combinations? There are two primary ways in which the plays are sent into the huddle in the NFL. Teams typically either have a play that covers all the routes involved and that is relayed on the field as the name of that play along with the formation and protection for that play. An example might be Lions 484 Vapor is a fictional play where in which the offensive line run blocks in a formation with one tight end on the strong side, two recievers split wide, and two backs where in which the right guard pulls out off strong tackle, the full back lead blocks into the hole, the running back and quarterback execute play action behind the fullback, the tight end run blocks momentarily and then runs a flag route, and the split end runs a go pattern, and the other receiver runs a post route. The advantage to this type of play calling might be that alot of information is relayed in a short amount of time and the play can get to the players on the field quickly and this allows the team to get to the line in a shorter amount of time allowing the quarterback more seconds on the 45 to change the play or protection or read what the defense might have planned to defend it. The other way in which plays are sent in to the offense is Route Combinations. Taking the same play as an example, position by position, each person and/or groups will one by one told what they are to execute on any given play. The example being first a code word for the formation, we'll call it Lions. Next the O-line assignments so for Run blocking with a pulling right guard, we'll call it Power right. Next a code word for the backfield assignments, we'll call that Strong for the fullback and Vapor for the halfback. Next is the routes for each position, X-Shoot, Y-Tampa, and Z-Charlie. One by one the information is relayed position by position and this is the way that the Raiders let their players know what they're running with the words used for each position and names for each kind of route used here solely fictional and used for the purposes of example only. What is the difference and how does this impact Carson's ability to play on Sunday? Well that's simple instead of having to memorize hundreds of plays that involve multiple formations and groups of routes, Carson is able to learn what the Raiders use for code words for a handful of formations and the names for the basic routes of each position. He doesn't need to know hundreds of plays. He can position by position know what each guy is doing on every play. So instead of Lions 484 Vapor getting confused with one of the other plays that he's crammed into his brain over the last five days, he can instead just learn the names for the formations and routes and player by player know who is doing what. Lions-Power Right-Strong-Vapor-X shoot-Y tampa-Z-Charlie on 2 ready? Break. This philosophy will make it much easier for Carson to be brought up to speed on the Raiders terminology and be in-tune to what Hue is trying to get accomplished on any given play this Sunday. Hue will be able to sit down with him during the week and say something along the lines of 'do you remember Eagles formation we ran with the Bengals? Well we run out of the same formation here on alot of running downs and we call it Hawk'. The shared knowledge that these two men share over the years and offenses they've played/coached in will help the coaching staff relate to Carson in terms he's familiar with and translate those terms to the lexicon that is the Raiders terminology. All of this means Carson will be more likely to pick up the offense quicker than in the other format. He'll need to learn the words the Raiders use for each formation, position, and routes but he's able to do that with the help and tutelage of a staff that knows what he ran before and what they called what.
Physically is the area we'll look at next. By all reports Carson has been working out over the last month with ex-Jets Quarterback Ken O'Brien and ex-Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He's had the opportunity to work on making all the throws and every indication is that elbow, knee, and hip issues over the last few years are all healed 100% and that Carson is in excellent condition. He has his arm strength and the spin on his ball is as tight as ever. O'Brien can stand back and watch Carson's footwork, throwing stance, and release, along with the end result of the throw and gently massage where Carson needs to keep on track with his fundamentals. Is he getting his plant foot in position to make the right throw? Is he flying open or staying compact through the throw? Where is his release point on the go route versus the work he gets done making throws into the flat? How is he following through with his throws? These are the types of things that Quarterback coaches focus on and O'Brien is a Pro's Pro who has worked with quite a few talented throwers in his time since his own retirement. Carson did all the pre-season work he normally does to get ready for a season and motivated by a couple seasons in Cincy that haven't ended the way he expects, Carson is expected to be out for vengeance in his quest to return as one of the top Quarterbacks in the NFL. All the preliminary checks have been run and his physical came through without any indication that any previous injuries are any longer an issue. He should be where he needs to be Physically to compete on Sunday. Is he in scramble for your life for 4 quarters game shape, probably not. But he should be able to pace his way through an NFL football game with the power needed for all the throws and be able to slip and slide enough behind the line to give his receivers a chance to break away from coverage. Remember, the Raiders have arguably the most most dominating running game in the NFL and much of what is expected of Carson is to be a manager of situations and play action and timed routes coming off the backs of successful running plays is going to be a nice chunk of any package Hue and company roll out on Sunday. Is he going to have a couple 7-step drops where the Raiders look to get behind the defense? Of course, it wouldn't be the Raiders otherwise. But expect Carson to be put in situations where he and the Raiders can be successful right away and build towards a hopeful playoff run this season.
Track history is another component to the decision of how much Carson is utilized in the game plan against the Chiefs. Hue plays the guys he thinks are best equipped to win football games and doesn't play the caution card of showing the rest of the team about how a guy needs to work his way into the rotation. This was evidenced just this past week with Aaron Curry. Hue told Curry you are going to pin your ears back and get after the quarterback in these situations and come up and plug the run on these plays. He kept it straight forward and had other packages of players on the field in situations that don't best utilize AC's skill set. Hue lets guys do what they do best and that is why players really enjoy playing for the guy. He says look on cover-2 I want you to hit this gap and blow up the play and that is why you are in Silver and Black young man and players love it. The fact that he has a coach that just lets him play instead of thinking about this and that and trying to figure out formations and multiple gap responsibilities and you cover the flat if the fullback does this and you rush wide if the running back does that. Just go, make a play, use the God given gifts you have and make us proud. The track history we've seen from Hue and company suggest that much the same tactic will be the case with Palmer and that lends itself to the thinking that Carson could, with a great week of practice, be in a position to lead the Raiders on a big drive against KC. Yes, quarterback and outside linebacker is a completely different level. But Carson has nearly 100 NFL regular season games in his back pocket and once he's brought up to speed on a few things he should be able to be put in situations where he has a couple key reads and can make the throws that matriculate the ball down the field. Hue might say When they're in Tampa-2 and we run an X-go combined with a slot-out route then your key is the deep safety on that side of the field and based on what you see, this might be the throw we need you to make. Carson is a pro, he's been through the wars, and that experience is going to help this all be a very smooth transition.
In closing, most quarterbacks that have had the time off Carson has and are coming into a new offense with new terminology and different ways in which the team looks to utilize their guys at the skill positions would typically make it unlikely that he's going to be run out there in 5 days. But, based on what we know about Carson's familiarity with some of the offensive concepts, Hue's ability to relate in a way that Carson can be brought up to speed quickly and comfortably, and what we know about his current physical condition, combined with what we know about the way Hue feels about who he puts on the field and what he puts on the players in the way of utilizing them in the way that helps them be who they are on Sundays, all leads me to believe that we very well may, given that we see the progress in practice during the work weed needed to move forward, see Carson Palmer winging the pigskin all around the field on Sunday. Who knows, we may even see that same grin and exuberance we saw on Carson's face en route to Pro Bowl appearances, 4000 passing yard seasons, and during his runs in Cincy where the lowly Bengals ascended to AFC North Divisional powers. Thank you for reading GMtalk on Silver and Black Pride. We encourage your comments and hope you'll check in for our future analysis and occasional insightful speculation.