No position in any sport in more important than the quarterback position is in football. Teams live and die by the play of their quarterback. The Raiders are a testament to that.
In 2016, they reached 12-3 almost solely on come-from-behind wins and game-winning touchdown passes from Derek Carr. The offense was top five and the defense was bottom five and the result was a run at the division and a return to the playoffs.
Last season, Carr struggled with a new Offensive Coordinator and perhaps some mental and physical recover from injuries and the Raiders fell to 6-10.
If you’d like an in-season example, look across the bay to the 49ers who were 1-10 before inserting Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and finishing the season on a 5-0 run and matching the Raiders 6-10 record.
So, bringing in the QB obsessed Jon Gruden to be the head coach and having him hire another QB expert in Greg Olson as his Offensive Coordinator is all about getting Derek Carr back to form. Even if they aren’t sure yet if they’ll even hire a QB coach.
In his first stint as OC in Oakland, Olson worked with Carr as a rookie, during a season in which they made a head coaching change after week four and then a staff overhaul in the offseason. He was hired in Jacksonville after that to bring along Carr’s draft classmate, Blake Bortles. Then last season he was the QB coach for the Rams during Jared Goff’s big breakout season.
Now he returns to again coach the quarterback he started with, having watched him from afar over the past three years. From his growth over the first two, to his seeming regression last season.
“There’s such a big jump from that Year 1 to Year 2 and he demonstrated that,” Olson said of Carr. “He’s demonstrated growth throughout his career up until this past season. I just think you can see a more mature player. I think, obviously, his knowledge of the game, you can see that on the tape. His ability to get in and out of bad plays, get the ball out of his hand. Again, I think there’s been tremendous growth since I left him.”
Olson puts the blame on the coaching change in Oakland for Carr’s rough season in 2017. And that’s fair. In 2016, Carr had the same coaches for the first time as a pro and the results were tremendous. Olson’s return could offer some familiarity. Olson went on to say Gruden’s hands-on approach to the quarterback position should have Carr’s “growth curve skyrocketing.”
“I was just so impressed with Derek’s football acumen – intelligence, to me, was kind of off the charts. The guys I’ve been around, I thought he was real talented that way, the mental part of the game. And then physically, his accuracy and his quickness of his release and just a lot of the physical tools there that were special.
“I think that’s probably what enticed Jon as well into taking this job, that there was a young quarterback in place here with a lot of upside and a lot of room for growth. I think that’s the challenge that he’s looking forward to, how do we get the best version of Derek Carr and how do we get the most out of Derek Carr.”
If you listened to Rich Gannon talk about Carr, you get the most from Carr by fixing his footwork and getting him to be more assertive or, as he put it, be more of a “jerk” and accept nothing less than perfection from his teammates. Gruden will insist Carr excel in both of those areas.
Coaching Carr properly is only part of that goal. The other parts are putting him in a system that plays to his strength and surrounding him with weapons that align with that same system.
“We grow as Derek Carr grows,” said Olson. “We drafted this guy to be that franchise quarterback. We feel like he has the potential to be that guy that can be here and play for 10 more years. It’s up to us to try and get that out of him. We’ll do everything in our power to make sure that that happens, from practice to offseason programs, to what we’re doing defensively in practice, all those things will be designed to help Derek’s growth.”
In terms of weapons, Carr appeared to have most everything he needed during that magical 2016 season. His top receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree both went over 1000 yards receiving that season and he had a three-headed running back group that was the 6th ranked attack in the league.
Last season they added tight end Jared Cook as what was supposed to be the final piece of that puzzle. He ended up being the team’s leading receiver, while the rest of the offense fell off.
Difficult times like that can act as a means of troubleshooting as well. Like when Carr was lost at the end of the 2016 season, we discovered just how easily this team could fall apart. The rest of the offense must be able to survive and at times even carry the load when Carr may not be at his best. They failed in that last season, leading to questions about what upgrades can be made. And again, it’s all about getting Carr what he needs.
“You’re always looking at the surrounding pieces around the quarterback,” Olson added. “You want to build around that quarterback and I think that that’s the other thing, again, I think with the hiring of a head coach like Jon Gruden, everything we do in this building is going to be about the development of Derek Carr. The way we script practices, the way we are doing drills, everything that we do is all about the development of the quarterback. That will really speed the development of Derek.”
So, if Derek wants Marshawn to stay, he stays. If he wants the team to look at bringing in a big play receiver, they’ll bring in a big play receiver. If he wants a swear jar in the quarterback room…well, let’s not get crazy.