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Raiders had lost their way under Jack Del Rio, are finding themselves again under Jon Gruden

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Oakland Raiders

Recently reports came out that the main problem with Derek Carr had last season was that he got too comfortable. His buddy Todd Downing was promoted from QB coach to Offensive Coordinator. Life was good. Right up until the team hit some adversity and the whole thing collapsed like a house of cards.

After a solid first two games, the team got absolutely dismantled in Washington. Carr looked like he was downright terrified and had no idea how to right the ship. The Raiders would win just four games the rest of the way.

They say that you find out one’s true character not in the best of times, but in the worst of times. Carr has always claimed he’s the same person in either scenario. Last year that didn’t quite prove true, though it wasn’t entirely Carr’s fault. It was that he and the rest of the team weren’t properly prepared for the worst. The moment defenses found a chink in the Raiders’ armor, they were slain.

Gruden watched this collapse take place from the booth and is determined not to let it happen again. His larger-than-life presence is practically night and day from that of his predecessor; the low key Jack Del Rio.

“You guys can feel his personality, feel his demeanor, his leadership,” Carr said of Gruden. “Super smart, always pushing everybody. He always makes it uncomfortable for us. And now playing a lot of football, it’s so uncomfortable in practice that when we get to the games, it’s going to be nice.”

Carr is quick to cover for any possibility his words could be taken out of context as a shot at his old coach. He said Del Rio made things uncomfortable too, but that Gruden takes it “to another level.” Carr’s leading receiver from last season feels the same way.

“Those curveballs are what helps you learn,” said tight end Jared Cook. “They help you learn fast, especially if you mess up on something that he throws out there, because you’re going to hear about it. But you won’t mess up on it again. But he always has little nuances and new schemes, new things that he’s always throwing at you each week. It’s on you as a pro to make sure that you’re staying on top of it and make sure that you’re catching up on everything that he’s throwing at you.”

It’s kind of hard to believe we’re here right now. Just two seasons ago, the Raiders were 12-4 and made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. It required several heroic comebacks most of which came on the arm of Derek Carr.

The problem was the way the Raiders had to win. Every week it seemed the offense was saving the day from a pretty pathetic defensive performance. That’s not acceptable when you have a defensive head coach like Del Rio.

In general there’s nothing wrong with having a defensive coach. But you figure if you do, at least the defense will be good. But the Raiders had among the worst defense in the league the past few seasons under Del Rio. And the defense rarely if ever was able to pick up the slack when the offense struggled a bit as you might expect they should.

When Carr was lost at in week 16 of the 2016 season, it had a snowball effect. They lost the finale in Denver and lost the division to the Chiefs in the process. Then they were run out of the playoffs by a Texans team they had already beaten in the regular season.

So, naturally, when the offensive coordinator was sent away and Del Rio remained along with Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr, the team simply fell back to earth with a thud.

Well into the third year of the same struggles, the team was lost. They were defeated. Both literally and figuratively.

“You can kind of lose your insight into why you fell in love with [football], why you really like it, especially when you’re losing,” said Jared Cook. “It’s hard to come to work every day with a smile on your face when you’re losing.”

“It was hard, Carr said. ‘Last year was hard because, like man, why? I’m so glad that is done. I do feel better, physically, mentally, emotionally, feel better. It’s hard. The NFL is hard. It’s hard to lose, especially when certain things you’re just like man, why is this happening? You try and work longer hours. You try and work harder and you can’t figure it out.”

For Carr and the rest of the Raiders, it’s about hitting the “reset button.” Del Rio and his staff are out and Gruden and his staff are in. The vibe is different, confidence is high, and players are having fun again and most importantly, as Cook put it, they’re “buying in.”

“I bought in for sure, because he knows what he’s talking about and you can tell a difference in a coach that knows what he’s talking about and a coach that does not. He knows what he’s talking about,” said Cook, in a statement that sounds laced with subtext.

“It’s good to have somebody, no matter what, he’s always focusing on the next play. He always focuses on the future, never the past. It’s always about what can you do for us next. It’s onto the next, it’s onto the next, focusing on positivity, focusing on doing your job right and focusing on having fun. Being in the league, it can kind of skew your perspective, but it’s good to have somebody that brings a new energy and a new outlook on things.”