Jon Gruden's arrival brings a wake-up call to Derek Carr


Jon Gruden's arrival brings a wake-up call to Derek Carr

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t had continuity in his young career. The Raiders have fired four offensive coordinators since drafting him in 2014. They have blown through two offensive systems.

Now Jon Gruden’s in town, ready to install a third. It’s going to be complicated. Gruden is going to be demanding, and at times abrasive.

Carr has the work ethic required to excel in Gruden’s system, armed with a thicker skin that you might think. Even so, Carr must kick it up a notch.

Rich Gannon should know. The former Raiders quarterback worked with Gruden for three seasons.

“I don’t know if anyone can match Jon’s intensity,” Gannon said Tuesday. “I don’t know if that’s possible, but you must put the work in and be prepared. You must have a passion for the game. I don’t care how hard Derek has worked before, he’s going to have to change his work habits to fit in.”

This isn’t another story about whether Carr can handle working with Gruden. He can, and will.

But it won’t be easy. Gruden is notoriously hard on quarterbacks, and said Carr’s job description will expand.

“We’re going to ask a lot more from Derek Carr at the line of scrimmage,” Gruden said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’re going to put him in a position to do some of the things we did in the past with his recognition of defenses, his ability to communicate and showcase his talented arm.

“We have to finish hiring the coaching staff first. I think we can improve the roster a little bit around him. I think the offense will demand more from him, which will really improve him (as a quarterback).”

Let’s unpack that quote in three stages.

No. 1: Carr has been asked to do a lot at the line of scrimmage before. That was true even as a rookie, when he was working under coordinator Greg Olson. He’ll reunite with Olson – quarterback and veteran coach had a great working relationship -- who returns as Raiders offensive coordinator.

Gruden said he’ll call plays. He’ll be hands-on tutoring his 26-year old quarterback still entering his prime. Make no mistake: Carr was an attraction for Gruden to take this job, and believes Carr’s best football lies ahead.

“He has great arm talent, he’s athletic, he’s got natural leadership skills, he’s young, he’s in his prime, he’s healthy now,” Gruden said during his introductory press conference. “He has, I think, been in a lot of different systems, played for a number of different quarterbacks. There hasn’t been a lot of continuity around him that way. I think he has a huge upside. I think with Greg Olson and the system we are going to put in place is going to demand a lot from him and I think that is what is going to unlock the greatness in him but very, very excited to have him as our quarterback.”

No. 2: Gruden is still hiring a coaching staff. Olson is in place, and Gannon won't join him as quarterbacks coach. The former Raiders quarterback and NFL MVP announced that fact Wednesday on a paid apprearance with 95.7-FM in the Bay Area. Gannon said the lifestyle change going from the CBS broadcast booth to a position coach would be too big to make a major career switch. 

"It was something I thought about," Gannon said on 95.7-FM, "but I just couldn't pull the trigger." 

Gannon said he'll be involved in a minimal capacity with Carr and Gruden's Raiders. 

"I want to help him understand Jon Gruden," Gannon said. "Jon can be very intense. Jon has the ability to talior himself to who the players are. Derek isn't someone who needs special treatment."

The Raiders already have quarterbacks covered, even without Gannon there every day. Gruden will be invovled with Carr. Olson will be primarily responsible for Carr's development, especially with Gruden calling plays.

No. 3: Gruden said he can improve Carr’s supporting cast. That’s certainly true. While the offensive line is virtually set, there could be an overhaul at receiver outside Amari Cooper. Michael Crabtree could be cut without guaranteed money. So can Cordarrelle Patterson. GM Reggie McKenzie loves Seth Roberts, but he’s only owed $2 million guaranteed coming off a down year. Gruden might prefer other pass catching options, and could make some changes there this offseason. 

Getting Carr back on track following a down year is Gruden’s most important job. Gruden has confidence the signal caller will thrive in a system he’ll work within for several years to come thanks to a 10-year contract the head coach signed this week. 

“I think there is a huge ceiling in Derek Carr. I think he has proven that,” Gruden said. “It’s up to us as a coaching staff to improve around him, get more consistent, and come up with an offense that really allows him to soar into another level. It is exciting and I think if I was a Raiders fan, I would come every week very excited to see No. 4 under center.”

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Raiders receiver quest may continue in NFL Draft

Go ahead and put receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson into the Raiders starting lineup. Use a pen. Only injury would be cause to reach for the White Out.

New Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves both guys. He said Cooper will be the passing game’s main attraction. He imported Nelson for his on-field production and locker-room leadership.

The Raiders are looking to upgrade receiver depth, a point made clear in free agency. They went after Ryan Grant, who eventually signed with Indianapolis. They brought Eric Decker in for a visit, though he left without a deal.

The NFL Draft could provide an upgrade. The Raiders could use some help in the slot, and with a sure-handed speed demon to take the top off a defense.

This draft class doesn’t feature a pass catcher worthy of the No. 10 overall pick, with few considered first-round talents. Help can be found down the draft, with early contributors seemingly available in the early and middle rounds. Here are a few options that could help the Raiders passing game:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
-- The former Aggie is a strong, target well suited for the slot. He can handle physical play at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and analysts say he’s adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He doesn’t have a huge catch radius, and doesn’t have burner speed to thrive on the outside, but he could be effective taking the smaller chunks offered in Gruden’s offense. He’s also a solid return man, and could help on special teams.
Projected rounds (per 2-3

James Washington, Oklahoma State
The former Cowboy doesn’t have D.J. Chark’s raw speed, but has plenty of big-play ability the Raiders need offensively. He uses solid positioning, hands and high-point ability to make important catches down the field. Analysts say he has great build-up speed and avoids physicality at the line. He can work inside and out, but could create space inside for Cooper and Nelson to work in favorable matchups. He isn’t built like a typical NFL receiver, but finds ways to make plays.
Projected rounds (per 2-3

Dante Pettis, Washington
-- Gruden likes precise route running, a trait Pettis has in spades. He could be a weapon from the slot, and can create separation quickly. Analysts also say he’s good finding open space during scramble drills, and has reliable hands. Physical corners can be bothersome, and he doesn’t have top-end speed. He could be an impactful member of an offense, and could help return punts as well.
Projected rounds (per 3-4

Deontay Burnett, USC
-- Burnett is built like a slot receiver, with plenty of experience playing inside. CBS Sports considers him a solid sleeper prospect among slot receivers, and analysts say he’s good making catches in traffic. He’s good in scramble drills, and can take big hits without losing possession. He isn’t great on deep passes and scouts say he doesn’t have room to add significant muscle mass to his relatively thin frame. He could be an asset in Gruden’s scheme, and available later than aforementioned receivers.
Projected rounds (per 4-5

Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
-- NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted about Kirk's teammate on Saturday morning as an intriguing prospect with size, speed and solid route running. He could be available late, a viable option if the Raiders look toward other positions earlier in the draft. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch, with an ability to make plays after the catch. His draft profile suggests he needs help battling physical corners, and may need better focus each play to compete steadily at the NFL. 
Projected rounds (per 6-7

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

Why Raiders players should pay close attention to NFL Draft this year

ALAMEDA – Raiders players should keep a close eye on who gets drafted next week. Pros typically follow the NFL’s amateur selection to see where their team gets help, or whether competition’s coming to their position group.

Some Raiders, however, might see their roster spot given away.

The Raiders have 76 guys on the roster already, a high sum created by a hyperactive free-agent signing stretch. They have 11 draft picks coming. If each one gets used, that leaves three open spots on the 90-man offseason roster.

GM Reggie McKenzie will sign more undrafted free agents than that. The Raiders have a penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, and will target several after the draft concludes.

“What we’re going to do is we will evaluate all of those free agents after the draft and if we feel like we can upgrade, we will,” McKenzie said Friday in his annual, required pre-draft press conference. “So, that’s not going to hinder us from trying to sign some players. We’re just going to have to compare, you know, to what we have. We’re going to bring in the best 90. We only have X amount of spots. We may have to create some.”

That last line means some guys on the Raiders roster won’t stay long. They won’t get a chance to impress Jon Gruden’s coaching staff over an offseason program. They’ll get two weeks of offseason workouts and next week’s voluntary minicamp. That’s about it.

It’s fair to say fringe players signed before Gruden came aboard should be worried, considering the influence Gruden has on the roster. That includes players last year’s practice squad and maybe some recent draft picks who haven’t established themselves yet.

There are plenty on reserve/futures contracts who can be filtered out to create the roster space required to add preferred members of this year’s amateur class.

A well-known name may be among them, considering the Raiders must free some cap space to sign their rookie class. Per the NFLPA, the Raiders have $1.8 million in cap space. Their rookie pool is $9.454 million. The space required to sign the class isn’t found with simple subtraction – we won’t bore you with the details – but the Raiders will have to create a little bit of space to get everybody signed under the cap. Such maneuvering could include cuts or restructures or 2018 space created by a contract extension given to a certain elite edge rusher. The Raiders have options in that regard.

Roster space, however, is a bit more cut and dry. Only 90 spots exist. They’ll have to shuffle folks out to bring others in, and it’s going to happen soon.