ALAMEDA (AP) — When Jon Gruden was hired for a second stint as Oakland Raiders coach, there were immediately questions about how quarterback Derek Carr would respond to Gruden’s intensity, cursing and hands-on approach after four seasons with more low-key coordinators and defensive-minded head coaches.
Carr laughed off those doubts, pointing out that he’s familiar with the swear words Gruden sometimes spews even if Carr doesn’t use them, and he said he welcomes the challenge of a coach who will always keep him on edge.
“I have to be on my game in front of my teammates,” Carr said. “It’s awesome, man. I absolutely love it. He wants me to get up in front of the room and show them the way I do things and hear it from my voice. Just the way the quarterback position is treated. He’s a quarterback guy, being the head coach is completely different.”
Carr began his career with Dennis Allen as head coach back in 2014 and Jack Del Rio came in the following year for three seasons. Their expertise was defense, leaving much of the offense and the tutoring of Carr to the coordinators.
It’s been completely different with Gruden in charge, as he will call the plays, runs the offensive meetings and frequently peppers Carr with questions about how he would handle all types of situations.
“Whenever we’re not doing something, we’re together,” Carr said. “If we’re in an offensive meeting. If we’re not in an offensive meeting, I’m sitting right next to him in the quarterback room. If I’m not in on a rep, I’m standing right by him. He’s (saying,) ‘Hey what do you think? What would you get to here? What would you do? What would you do?’ That’s the way it should be. He challenges me. He pushes me. He wants the best for me. You can tell that with his preparation every day. He’s ready every day to give me something to let me dominate that day. It’s awesome.”
The success of the relationship between Gruden and Carr will go a long way in determining the success of the Raiders this season as they try to bounce back from a disappointing six-win season.
After showing steady progress his first three seasons that helped Carr grow from a second-round pick in 2014 to a quarterback with MVP support in a breakthrough 2016, Carr took a major step back last season under first-time coordinator Todd Downing.
After breaking his leg in the next-to-last regular-season game in 2016 to cost him an opportunity to play in the postseason, Carr had another injury early last season when he broke a bone in his back in a Week 4 loss at Denver.
He missed only one game because of the injury but never looked completely comfortable in the pocket after that as he matched his career high with 13 interceptions and recorded his worst totals in yards, touchdowns and passer rating since his rookie year in 2014.
Carr has looked like a new quarterback in practice this season.
“Derek looks like a completely different person in my eyes, just from the way he’s attacking the game,” tight end Jared Cook said. “From the way he’s attacking the challenges that Gruden has been giving to him. Every time that Gruden asks him a question, he gets it right, no hesitation. Every time Gruden asks him to get up in front of a meeting room and call out a play, run a play, get to the right check, get to the right audible, he does it every time. That’s a responsibility that Derek never had last year.
You see a totally different player out of him. He’s attacking the game differently mentally and he has a totally different attitude going in to this year.”
The Raiders hope that translates on the field starting with Monday night’s opener against the Los Angeles Rams. Carr didn’t get tested much in the preseason, playing just two drives.
But Gruden has done his best to challenge him at practice and sees the quarterback he was so high on back at the “Gruden QB Camp” four years ago. Gruden has never had a promising young quarterback like Carr.
He had success with veteran Rich Gannon his first time in Oakland and won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson in Tampa Bay. But Gruden struggled to find a consistent passer in his later years with the Buccaneers. He believes Carr can be that guy.
“I try not to over-coach him,” Gruden said. “He is a blast to be around. He is extremely talented. He’s a great worker. We’re trying to give him a system that he can sink his teeth into and take control of when the game starts. He’s got tremendous leadership and style. But, I think we’re making progress. I can’t speak for him, but I sure enjoy coming in here and working with him every day.”