This time last year Derek Carr was in an entirely different state of mind. His offseason consisted mostly of preparing to the combine and right around now he was having his Fresno State Pro Day.
For Carr, he was still a month away from the draft at this point and therefore still a month away from even knowing which team he would be joining. Now he is about to begin the Raiders Offseason Training Activities which start Tuesday.
When last season ended, it was a couple weeks off for Carr, and then he was able to start focusing on his preparation for next season. Those preparations began during last year's playoffs, while Jack Del Rio was still the defensive coordinator in Denver.
The Broncos' playoff run was a short one and Carr would soon know who his new head coach would be and shortly thereafter he would know who his offensive coordinator would be as well. And his focus could be on this team with this offense.
"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. I didn't have to worry about any of that," said Carr. "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, instead of working on my 40 start. Hopefully, I'll never have to run another one."
Even with the longer offseason with the Raiders, he still has a new offensive coordinator and NFL rules, his contact with his coaches is very limited. One of the things he had yet to see was the new playbook.
"It's really hard, but 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, (as opposed to) last year. And a month and a half is forever. You can pretty much nail it down, a good majority of it at least, in three to four weeks, I feel like. This will be really nice, to have this part of it to where I can just nail it. 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."
Adding to Carr's excitement is a new offense he believes fits his strengths perfectly. The kind of offense under which he excelled while at Fresno State and had him put up over 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns as a senior.
"It's something that I'm comfortable doing," said Carr of the Raiders new offense. "The things that they want to do are things that I'm good at, and that's really cool, that they want to take the offense and say, ‘Hey, let's make it good at what you do. Let's build it around you and let's put pieces there that you feel comfortable with,' and all that kind of stuff. So it's been awesome. It's been anything I could have dreamed of. . . This is the plan that I had in mind and now it's coming to fruition, so it's pretty cool."
Even with an all-new coaching staff, this won't be like starting over for Carr. Not only because he will have more of the offseason to focus on his duties with the Raiders and his playbook with the new staff, but because he can look back at last season and hope to learn from it.
For all the credit Carr gets for enduring being a 16-game starter as a rookie, he had his share of troubles. Not all those troubles are entirely his fault, and he showed some flashes of brilliance. But there were some areas he absolutely must improve and those flashes must turn into consistency.
He has tape now. And not just college tape against mostly lesser competition. Tape against NFL talent.
"I don't want to go back and watch a highlight tape," Carr iterated. "Those are fun and make people feel good, but I'm not really into that. 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."
"My jump from my first year to my second year is crucial to me, so that's what I did. I went back and said, ‘What do I need to get better at?', because the NFL game is way different than college. It's not like, ‘Oh, I'll just keep doing the same thing.' You can't. I've got to change some things and I'm looking forward to seeing how that works."
As a quarterback, Derek Carr must think about more than just his play on the field. He must be a leader and get the most out of his offensive teammates. That may be the most important aspect for him heading into this offseason that he didn't have last year. He is coming in as the unquestioned starting quarterback. This is his team. From the moment his teammates walk into practice, they will look to him.
When Carr came in, not only was a rookie, but he wasn't seen as the starter. The Raiders had acquired Matt Schaub in a trade and he was to be the starter -- or at least that was the perception going in. Carr didn't get the job until a couple weeks before the start of the season. Being a rookie asked to lead NFL veteran players is no easy task.
"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. I was going to come in and be myself, but I couldn't assert my leadership role and all that. . . I can come in and be myself from the beginning and lead our team."