NAPA (AP) — For all the good that Derek Carr accomplished as a rookie starting 16 games at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, there was one glaring negative: The inability to get the ball downfield.
Carr finished last in the league in yards per completion and yards per attempt as he too often threw short and was hampered by receivers unable to generate big gains after the catch.
But with a year of experience and a receiving group that has been significantly upgraded by the additions of rookie Amari Cooper and veteran Michael Crabtree, Carr is looking to improve on his rookie numbers and solidify his role of the franchise quarterback who has been missing in Oakland since Rich Gannon left more than a decade ago.
There have been signs of that progress early in training camp as Carr has found Crabtree and Cooper often on deeper routes that were often missing from Oakland’s repertoire last season, including what would have been a 70-yard touchdown to Cooper during team drills on Saturday.
“There is going to be ups and downs,” Carr said. “We’ve had a few missed opportunities. Everyone will want to talk about the deep one of course because (Cooper) ran a great route.
“He saved his landmark, did all those good things. But then we also missed a couple. That takes us taking extra time after practice to get the timing down to make sure the little details are on point. As long as we keep doing that, it’s going to be just fine.”
The increased talent is only one difference this year for Carr, who took the offseason to digest all he learned as a rookie and figure out what he needed to do better in year two. Carr’s progression has also been helped by the stability of his job.
He came into camp last summer as a second-round pick who was supposed to spend the year backing up Matt Schaub. But after outplaying Schaub in training camp and the preseason, Carr earned the starting job for the season opener and never gave it up.
“It’s just a totally different situation,” he said. “There’s no, ‘Hey, you’re the guy of the future.’ There’s none of that. It’s, ‘You’re the guy now.’ It’s kind of nice knowing that, because now I can really be myself, whereas when it was (Matt) Schaub’s team, there are certain things. You can’t step on his toes. You don’t want to get in the way. You want to let him do his thing.”
That confidence in his role is evident each day in practice and in the huddle as Carr has become even more vocal with a year of experience under his belt.
“He’s a pro. He’s a leader,” safety Charles Woodson said. “I think the guys on the team recognize him as a leader. You go out here to practice, he’ll come over to the sideline sometimes and ask me questions about what I see, so he’s hungry.
“He’s thirsty for that knowledge and he can make all the throws. You put all those things together and combine that with the fact that he played in every game last year, I mean, we’re looking for him to be dominant this year.”
Carr was the 18th quarterback to start for Oakland since the beginning of 2003, but became the first to go all 16 games since Gannon did it in 2002 — when the Raiders made the Super Bowl.
Carr had good and bad moments for the Raiders (3-13). He became the seventh rookie quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes in a season and looked comfortable in the pocket.
But he also only averaged 9.4 yards per completion — the 10th lowest mark over the past 80 seasons — and his 5.5 yards per attempt were the second lowest in Raiders history.
“He just needs to keep improving,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “I think every year, whether you’re an 18-year guy or a second-year guy, you want to keep getting better in certain facets. Derek, again, is just starting out. He got a taste of it last year, he’s got a good feel for the game.”