ALAMEDA -- As a predominantly power-blocking team last season, the Raiders were the No. 7-ranked rushing team in the NFL, averaging 131.9 yards per game on the ground.Through four games of the 2012 season utilizing the zone-blocking scheme, the Raiders are 32nd in the 32-team NFL -- last -- in averaging 60.8 rushing yards per game.Still think the switch should have been seamless, and that the ZBS is similar to what the Raiders ran last year?"It's very different in the run game," center Stefen Wisniewski told CSNCalifornia.com following the Raiders' final pre-bye week practice on Wednesday. "Yeah, it really is."How, exactly?Wisniewski's eyes rolled and he smiled."Well, I mean, I'd get technical on you," he said with a laugh. "Yeah, it's, I mean, the footwork, the aiming points, just everything is. The whole goal's different -- you're trying to get people to run sideways and make a cut, instead of trying to move people, drive them off the ball. So, the whole broad scheme is different and then all the little details are different, with all the footwork and everything and the combinations."But we're getting more comfortable at them and the more reps we get, we're just going to keep getting better and the more reps the (running) backs get, they're going to keep getting better because it's different for them, too. The reads are all very different."Keep in mind, the Raiders' offensive line is still rounding into form, what with Wisniewski making the transition from left guard to center after missing all on-field work this offseason recovering from shoulder surgery before a calf injury sidelined him in the exhibition season. And Willie Smith is replacing the injured Khalif Barnes at right tackle. Plus, it's not like Oakland can practice the cut-blocking in practice against teammates."It's definitely close and we really feel we're continuing to get better at it," Wisniewski said. "You know, it's not an easy thing to pick up right away. It takes time, it takes practice and it takes game practice, too. It's a different look than practice (when) you can't really cut guys. It's a whole different deal."It's a things that's going to take time and we're definitely moving in the right direction and we're definitely close to where we want to be."And therein lies the frustration."It's tough," Wisniewski said, "and we certainly want to be seeing results right now but coaches have been good and encouraging, encouraging us to be patient, keep working, keep getting better and just trust that it's going to work and we believe it is going to work."
Derek Carr was asked several times during the 2017 season whether a Week 4 back injury impacted his throwing motion, his play, his ability to produce. The Raiders quarterback dismissed the inquiries each time, proclaiming full health.
That wasn’t the whole truth. Three transverse process fractures in his back did affect him. Carr didn’t admit that. He didn’t want to use injury as an excuse. His play, Carr figured, should stand on its own.
Now, with the 2017 season in the rearview, Carr was a bit more candid about his physical state.
“When you break three bones in your back, it doesn’t feel good,” Carr said in this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast (Subscribe right here). “I’m thankful God healed me to the point I could walk around and be able to practice. Injuries will never be something I talk about, especially during the season, but since it’s after the season, the (back issue) was one of those things that was there.”
Denver’s Adam Gotsis kneed Carr in the back during a third-quarter sack. The fractures occurred there, and removed Carr from that 16-10 loss. The original prognosis had Carr out 2-4 weeks. He missed but one game and never stopped to rest. He missed a Wedneday practice, was limited the rest of the week and was questionable for a game backup EJ Manuel ultimately played.
Carr pushed to get back in the lineup. He didn’t miss another game, but that doesn’t mean the back injury was behind him.
“I had to deal with it,” Carr said. “I had to do certain things to manage it, but I just didn’t talk about it. I didn’t want it to be an excuse. It was a want more than anything else. I didn’t want it to be a reason. I couldn’t let that be a reason why I couldn’t do A, B or C.”
Carr’s back wasn’t the sole reason for lackluster offensive output, but it played a part. The Raiders dealt with flux in play calling and scheme preference, especially in the run game. On-field struggles splintered the locker room some, and an ironclad confidence began to soften.
Carr stands three-plus weeks from last season’s end. Distance provides perspective, and Carr wishes he could’ve done something to pull his Raiders out of a tailspin.
“I’ve looked back at the season over the past couple weeks and wondered if I could have done something or said something or acted upon something at a certain time,” Carr said. “You’re always looking to get better. …
“I’ve looked back (at) the way things were handled, things that went down and said, ‘Man. I wish I could’ve had the knowledge I have now. I would go back and fix that.’ That’s how things work. You gain experience from every situation you go through and try to be better the next time.”
Jon Gruden has been interviewed several times since becoming Raiders head coach. Quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t listened to most of those sessions, and certainly doesn’t seek them out.
One landed in Carr’s inbox recently, and something Gruden said really resonated.
Gruden’s message, paraphrased: If Derek Carr is not successful, then I’ve failed as a coach.
There are two comments in that one. Gruden considers Carr extremely talented, and he’s taking responsibility for unlocking the quarterback's vast potential.
Gruden will be hands on in Carr’s development, with all the coaching intensity and fire and eyebrow raises that have become Gruden’s signature.
“He’s going to demand of me. He’s going to push me,” Carr said on this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast, which will drop Tuesday morning (Subcribe right here). “He’s going to make me be the best version of myself.”
Carr had a direct answer to skeptics wondering aloud whether he can thrive under Gruden’s particular coaching style.
“I want him to be tough on me,” Carr said. “For anyone who thinks I want him to be a different way has no clue about me or how I play football or how I prepare to play this game. I don’t need to tell stories about how I prepare or manage myself.
“(Jon) and I are going to get along great. I hope that he demands of me. I hope he’s hard on me. I don’t need to know he loves me. He has already told me that about 20 times. I appreciate that and we’ll be friends forever, but I know he’ll be demanding and tell me what I need to do. Let’s go fix problems that I have and let’s do what I need to do to win championships. Hopefully that will give people some insight and hopefully that’s the story that gets out, because that’s the truth.”
Carr met his new head coach briefly before his introductory press conference, but has known Gruden since filming the Gruden QB Camp segment back in 2014. They got along great then, and in each interaction since.
“We have so much more in common that people realize,” Carr said. “I think it would blow some people’s minds. Him and I are very similar in the way we go about our business and how we carry ourselves. It’s an exciting time.”
Carr’s excited to have some stability in his football life. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback will start his fifth NFL season with his fourth head coach, fourth go-round with an offensive coordinator and third offensive scheme. Gruden signed a 10-year contract. OC Greg Olson signed a four-year pact. They’ll be here a while, and Carr’s excited about that.
“It’s going to be really nice,” Carr said. “To know Jon signed on for a 10 years and (Olson) signed on for a long time shows me a couple of things. No. 1: that they believe in me. I don’t think Coach Gruden would’ve quit his day job, which I’m thankful he did. To get (Olson) out of a good spot in L.A (with the Rams), shows that they believe in me and that’s awesome. And, No. 2: I’m going to have two people I can talk to in a different language for years to come. We can grow within the relationship, and hopefully we’ll all ride off together. It’s set up that way right now, and we have a lot of work to do to reach that point.”