The unquestioned starter, the familiar face, the scrappy underdog, and the fresh-faced rookie. Derek Carr, Jarrett Stidham, Nick Mullens and Chase Garbers — that’s the tale of the tape for the Las Vegas Raiders quarterback room.
While Carr’s name may be etched in the Silver & Black record books in major statistical categories — the 31-year-old nine-year veteran is the franchise leader in passing yards (31,700), touchdowns (193), game-winning drives (30), and, not surprisingly sacks absorbed (237) — he’s in the same boat as the other three quarterbacks on the roster: Assimilation. Thanks in large part to the new coaching staff engineered by head coach Josh McDaniels.
“We’re teaching the system for everybody,” Raiders quarterback coach Bo Hardegree said during his post mandatory camp press conference two weeks ago. “Yeah, it’s my job to make sure I put him, give him the best ability to be successful when he goes out on the field. And that’s what I do every day from his drill work, from my meeting prep to just teaching the system. But that’s what we’re doing right now. It’s just teaching the system. We’re going from a baseline and we’re just building that foundation right now.”
Everyone starts at the same point, despite how much or how little they’ve done in their respective professional careers, be it Carr down to Garbers. But let’s not get it twisted. There is still a clear starter amongst that group in Carr, the most accomplished of the group of signal callers and the highest-paid, too. Carr is a team captain, the leader off the offense, and the rock that held down the offense during a 2021 season filled with success, failures, and an ungodly amount of turmoil.
That leads us to Stidham and crew. Like the other 31 teams in the league, having a competent backup is a must, especially with how tenacious and athletic defenders come these days with intentions of dropping quarterbacks. Carr is a relative iron man regarding availability only missing a handful of games and snaps. But, just like the rest of the NFL, if Carr were to unfortunately go down, the Raiders offense would adjust and change to the absence — even if coaches give the glass-half-full approach and are optimistic the scheme won’t change too much.
Let’s look at the other quarterbacks, shall we?
Of all the quarterbacks, Carr included, no one has the history or rapport with McDaniels and Hardegree like Stidham. Taken in the fourth round (133rd overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots when McDaniels was the offensive coordinator, Stidham is seasoned in the ways of the Raiders new head honcho and player caller and the QB coach. Stidham is both competing for the prime backup duties but also a bridge-type who can provide a sounding board to everyone in the quarterback’s room on scheme and language.
“It’s a plus,” Hardegree said when asked how important it is to have Stidham in the room because he knows the system so well. “You know, any time, I’ve moved a couple of times, a couple of different teams…if you have somebody that has that prior knowledge to kind of maybe tie something together, it’s definitely a benefit and he’s been great for the whole room. He’s a great guy, great worker. And obviously, I had a year with him previously in New England, so that’s been good. It’s been a positive.”
What can’t be ignored though is this: Knowing a system and going out and executing the scheme on a daily basis are two different beasts all together. But one can’t deny the underlying interest of McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler to get Stidham in the Raiders fold via trade with the Patriots. Stidham will need to show he’s not only apt to the terminology and system, but lead the entire offense when he’s under center as camp and the offseason progresses. Stidham also has to prove he’s capable of avoiding the injury bug and be available. Since being drafted, he hit the physically unable to perform list (PUP) twice in New England. He’ll need to fight for and earn the spot of QB2.
If there’s a signal caller on the Raiders roster who’s used to uphill climbs and impressing a coaching staff enough to earn trust, it’s Mullens. The undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi made the San Francisco 49ers roster in 2018 and went on to play in 19 games in the Bay with 16 starts. That’s 11 more games and 16 more starts than Stidham has accumulated in his two years in the league, despite Mullens record of 5-11 as a starter. Mullens knows to play within himself and not do too much and the Raiders weapons offensively presents the best group Mullens will have to work with. Mullens is good enough to come in for spot and emergency starts, but if it’s him or Stidham taking substantial snaps, something went terribly awry.
Which brings us to the rookie: Garbers. A project-type quarterback that doesn’t stand out in one particular area physically — his arm strength is in question, namely can he make the NFL throws that require velocity? but has impressed with his willingness to go out there, learn and compete. The Cal product has left an impression on McDaniels.
“I mean, the young kid who just came here after the draft, Chase, is working his butt off,” McDaniels said after OTAs. “It’s just a lot of stuff. In college football, there’s a lot of this stuff that we ask them to do that they don’t necessarily do a lot of. So, he’s poured himself into it.
“He’s grinding away every day, makes some mistakes, tries to learn from them. And Nick [Mullens] and Jarrett [Stidham] are both veteran guys. They’ve got some experience, not a ton, but they’re eager, smart.”
Garbers does fit the mold of a developmental prospect that McDaniels prefers. A quarterback that can be molded and steeped in the system and culture for multiple seasons.
Unless Garbers continues to blow away McDaniels and staff, he’s destined perhaps to practice squad with Stidham and Mullens duking it out for QB2 and QB3 spots.
“All of them are smart, so there’s no question about that and there’s some competition,” McDaniels said. “They’re making some good plays and then there’s some things to learn from.
“I’m just excited about that whole group, the way they work with each other, the way they push each other. That’s what we’re looking for.”