ALAMEDA -- Derek Carr’s offseason program doesn’t start when the NFL gives a green light. The Raiders starting quarterback works hard on his own and has previously held a private passing camp in Bakersfield to building chemistry with his receivers during periods where the league prohibits team activity.
This offseason, however, has been something different altogether. Carr’s winter throwing schedule was packed getting in sync with his new receivers.
“These guys, they’re texting me saying, ‘Hey, I’m in town, let’s go.’ I’ll get off my couch, I’ll bring my kids and we’ll go throw,” Carr said Tuesday. “It’s nice to see how hard they want to work and how great they want to be.
“Every quarterback wants to do that, but to have wideouts reaching out saying let’s go do this, it’s pretty cool. Hitting them up saying, ‘Hey man, I’m going to be in town, do you want to throw this day and this day?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there!’ And literally, they’re taking flights the next day to get there. It means something to them.”
Carr was speaking in generalities about all receivers, but let’s be honest. Most of the texts are coming from Antonio Brown.
Brown has been, shall we say, forward about his desire to work out with Carr. They found an East Bay park to throw at before ink was dry on the trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to Oakland for third- and fifth-round picks. Brown and Carr went out together several times at San Ramon and Dublin parks, and even against Cal’s defensive backs at Memorial Stadium, before they were allowed to join forces at the Raiders Alameda complex.
It’s easy, however, to assume that only one receiver was going the extra mile because Brown’s camp blanketed social media with hype videos from these sessions.
It was Tyrell Williams, however, making an impromptu trip or two to work out with Carr and Brown during a dead period.
Brown and Williams will be featured players in the passing game, but were only part of a complete positional overhaul that left Marcell Ateman as the only returning receiver to make an impact last year.
Brown, Williams, Ryan Grant, J.J. Nelson and fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow are all new, and are expected to contribute in the pattern.
“We all understood that we had to get on the same page – all the guys – we all got together and we all threw,” Carr said. “We understood that we had some making up to do, but I think we’ve hit a good stride and we have a little ways to go.”
Time and repetition. That’s the key to building a solid rapport. Sync comes with timing and trust on both ends. Receivers have to be reliable route runners with secure hands. Carr must deliver passes on time and within a certain radius. Both must make adjustments without saying a word to make Jon Gruden’s offense work.
Practice makes perfect, though Carr did some homework on the new guys, watching tape of them with other teams to better understand how they work.
“That’s huge, and seeing how someone breaks on a route – because half the time you only get a split second when you see them break, you don’t get to see the whole picture – I’m throwing behind massive bodies and I just have to know that that’s where the ball is supposed to be,” Carr said. “Same thing with ‘AB’, and Tyrell and J.J. and Ryan and Renfrow. Although, I didn’t watch any Clemson tape, forgive me for not watching college, it’s a little slower nowadays to me. (laughter)
“Watching these guys run these routes and watching how they break, you definitely take a look at it, especially with ‘AB’. The success that he and Ben [Roethlisberger] had, you’d be silly not to see what they did. I’d be a fool to say, ‘Ah, no, let’s do it our way.’ No, let me see what you all did good, because we can do the same things here, you’re just wearing a different color.”
The passing game has entered a significant growth stage. Players can go against defenders for the first time during the offseason program’s third phase, comprised of 10 OTA sessions – the first one came Tuesday – and a three-day mandatory minicamp.
Development should come quickly under these conditions.
"Starting here in OTAs, you learn how we like to run the routes against certain coverages, how I like to release, how long it takes me to get off the press, stuff like that,” Williams said. “He sees it in practice and then we’re able to watch the tape together, which is big (when building chemistry).”
That was clear Tuesday when Carr and Williams connected on a long bomb in OTAs. Williams created just enough separation and Carr let it fly, trusting Williams would win possession in traffic. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. That’s a trust point right there, when repeated in practice, that will make Carr take a shot without hesitation.
While Brown wasn’t at Tuesday’s OTA – they’re all voluntary – he has spent significant time with Carr. That was evident in a Wednesday session closed to the media, which was documented some by Brown’s team.
On-field connections sometimes come from off-field moments, just getting to know a guy. Carr and Jordy Nelson played lots of offseason golf. Amari Cooper played basketball games with Carr. Brown is heavily involved with Carr personally and professionally this offseason to help establish a connection.
“With these guys, they’re coming to the house, coming to kids’ birthday parties, they’re hanging out just randomly not even doing anything,” Carr said. “It’s different for every person, but just making sure we’re spending time together and helping build our team.”
Carr has made a strong impression on his new receivers, with his ability to make every throw and how hard he works away from the practice field.
“He wants to be perfect at everything,” Williams said. “Timing, earlier, that’s a big thing and just getting together like that is really important to him. He’s always staying after and always communicating so that’s big. There should be no reason we all aren’t on the same page because we try to over-communicate everything. I think that’s important for him, and I like that too.”