One of the biggest story lines for the Silver & Black since he who shall not be named departed has been what the offense will look like this season without him. With the presumed focal point of the Raiders attack released two days before the first game, other players would need to step in to fill that void. One of those players was tight end Darren Waller.
On Monday night against the Broncos, Waller answered the call and stepped up to the occasion. The hype surrounding Waller has been building throughout the offseason and expectations were high for the athletic tight end.
Waller knew he would be incorporated into the offense, and quarterback Derek Carr gave him words of confidence prior to the game.
“It felt good. Once he knows who he has on the field, he (Carr) was like, ‘I’m coming to you, so win every route.’ So I’m trying to win every route,” Waller said. “I am expecting the ball to be there and if it is not there, that’s fine and if it is there, I’m trying to make something happen.”
As it turned out, Carr did go to him, and Waller did make ‘something’ happen. Waller was targeted 8 times and recorded 7 receptions for 70 yards against a talented Broncos defense. Waller’s versatility was utilized heavily as he lined up all over the field. Some snaps he was used as an in-line blocker and others he was lined up as the X-receiver.
Carr couldn’t be happier for his young tight end who has a tremendous story of overcoming issues with substance abuse to get to this point.
”You know I love him. I think we all in here, I mean everybody, roots for that dude,” Carr said of Waller. “I kid you not, when I sat there at my house and saw his story come on Hard Knocks, I sat there with tears in my eyes because I was like you know how many people that helped by being that vulnerable? That’s unbelievable. That blesses my life. To see someone that vulnerable and that open. It wasn’t hard for him, he was just talking, tell people his story. Imagine if everybody could open up like that. Imagine how many more people could get out, how many people we could help.
“To know that story and to watch this guy play on Monday Night Football and make these crazy plays...I mean, you have to root for that guy. I think we all do. I think he’s going to become a fan favorite and one of the favorites in the league for a lot of kids and lot of adults too to look up to him.
“To be that young and that honest and that open and I told him the next day, I told him, bro you don’t know how many people that story, your story, is going to bless and help and change their life. Maybe today they’ll go and ask for help. Maybe tomorrow they finally realize, man if he could do it, then I can do it. That right there, to see him transition and being the professional football player, not trying to get cut, he’s now a professional football player making plays on Monday Night Football. Starting tight end for the Oakland Raiders. I think it’s a powerful thing, and I think that needs to be talked about more.”
Waller’s versatility is important for the offense in a myriad of ways. A converted wide receiver, Waller’s pass catching ability and athleticism allow him to line up as a receiver and take advantage of one-on-one situations with defensive backs. He also showed well for himself as a run blocker, springing a block on the last rushing play of the game helping running back Josh Jacobs pick up 13 yards to end the game.
Waller needed to step up to the task and he did. As advertised, Waller is the real deal and he will be leaned upon heavily moving forward. It is clear by the play calling that Gruden wants to utilize him and that Carr has a good rapport with him. Waller exemplifies diamond in the rough.