Derek Carr channels Kobe, finds calm with 'Mamba mentality'


Derek Carr channels Kobe, finds calm with 'Mamba mentality'

ALAMEDA -- Raiders quarterback Derek Carr felt pressure up the middle and broke to his left. He found room to run and bolted, with little resistance between him and the first-down marker. It was third down in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints and, as he neared the marker, a defender came crashing down.

His first thought was to bowl him over, then remembered last year’s incident where he hurt a hand trying to stiff arm the opposition. Sliding wasn’t an option. Fourth down would come from that. Carr chose instead to take flight. His feet got tagged and somersaulted forward, landing on the Saints sideline just beyond the marker.

He bounded up and levied his hand toward the end zone. First down, Raiders.

Head coach Jack Del Rio was both proud and pissed.

“We eliminated the straight-arm (last year),” Del Rio said with a smile Monday, after his Raiders beat the Saints 35-34. “So, now we have say, ‘OK, let’s avoid the frontal flip unless it’s to win a Super Bowl like John Elway did.’ The guy is an unbelievable competitor. He played a whale of a game.”

Carr certainly did, walking a fine line between head versus heart. That’s hard for a young quarterback to master, especially one with blazing competitive fire and rare physical traits. Sometimes his brain is Carr’s greatest asset, knowing when to push and when to pull back.

That might be Carr’s greatest improvement heading into his third season. The game slows down through experience. Carr’s pulse has calmed some, too, resulting in a level head under pressure. That was the case against New Orleans, when Carr orchestrated three touchdown drives and one big 2-point conversion in the Raiders comeback win.

It was his sixth fourth-quarter comeback, something he has a flare for. Assuming, of course, he can stay out of trouble. That hasn’t always been the case, considering six of his 13 interceptions last year came in the fourth quarter with the score separated by seven points or less. That was pressing the issue. He didn’t do that Sunday on the bayou.

“I definitely have worked on it,” Carr said Wednesday. “There are times where I get emotionally hijacked, then I’ll try and force something and do something. I just tried the whole game to be my same competitiveness self just with the same mentality good or bad. I felt that being able to stay that way kept my mind in a good spot throughout the whole game.”

Carr does that by trying to emulate an someone who plays basketball. Carr is a huge Kobe Bryant fan, and is amazed by his ability to remain unafraid of the moment and execute in the clutch without losing focus.

“That’s really just my mindset,” Carr said. “I’m a big Kobe fan so, that ‘Mamba’ mentality. You have to go out there and you have to do it. I’ve studied him, I’ve watched him forever and that’s always been my mindset when I get in those situations. Now, they always don’t work out, but that’s just where my mind’s at.”

It doesn’t do the Raiders good if the rest of the team doesn’t follow suit. It certainly did Sunday, with confidence to do so again if required.

“The coolest thing for me all game, was that there was no one flipping out on the sidelines,” Carr said. “There was no one pointing fingers. There were no subtle jabs at people. There was none of that, there was just, ‘Hey this is what you need to do, this is what you need to do. Now go do it.’ That’s it. If we can just stay calm like that and don’t get up, don’t get down, we can score points and do it at a high level.”

Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now


Vontaze Burfict wants Antonio Brown beef behind him with both on Raiders now

Things might get awkward at the start of Raiders OTAs in May.

That's when new teammates Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown will share a locker room for the first time.

Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals) and Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) played on opposite sides of one of the AFC North's fiercest rivalries, and things came to a head in the 2015 postseason. That's when Burfict knocked Brown out of the playoffs with a dirty, illegal hit to the head, and received a three-game NFL suspension. 

But Burfict, who signed a one-year contract with the Raiders on Tuesday, told reporters in a conference call he isn't concerned about any lingering tension between himself and the talented wide receiver.

"We're on the same team, with one goal. It's all positive, man," Burfict said. "He's a great player, he's gonna be a Hall of Famer one day, and honestly I'm gonna approach him just like I do all my other teammates. I'll introduce myself, all that good stuff. ... There's nothing negative over here, man. We're on the same team, everything's [about] trying to win a championship over here."

The Raiders traded for Brown earlier this month, and he tweeted Tuesday that he had already reached out to Burfict.

That's a marked departure from the ex-Steelers star. When former Pittsburgh teammate Juju Smith-Schuster crushed Burfict with a vicious block, "no one enjoyed [it] more than Brown," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote Tuesday. In the aftermath of Burfict's hit, Brown made his displeasure with the play clear to Cook.

“I feel like guys don’t want to stop me no more,” Brown told Cook in early 2016. “They want to take me out. They want to kill me. They want to steal my dreams. They want to ruin me. They want to end me.”

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Burfict, for his part, sounded more than ready to bury the hatchet Tuesday. He said he'll keep an open mind when he meets Brown, as well as the rest of his new teammates.

"Honestly, we might [end up being] the closest friends on the team, you know what I mean," Burfict said. "So, just gotta go along with it, and I can't wait to meet him."

If Brown's tweet is any indication, he feels the same way. 

Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther


Vontaze Burfict wastes no time reuniting with Raiders DC Paul Guenther

Vontaze Burfict was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, and immediately called his mother. The veteran linebacker explained the situation, ended the call and then made another one.

“The second person I called was Pauly G,” Burfict said. “He didn’t pick up. I think I called him like seven times straight.”

Those who know Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther best call him “Pauly G.” Count Burfict firmly in that class.

That’s why Burfict didn’t last long on the open market. The Raiders signed him Tuesday night to a one-year contract reportedly worth up to $5 million, less than 24 hours after he was released.

A Guenther-Burfict reunion seemed inevitable because of the veteran’s expertise running the coordinator's defensive scheme and a clear bond on and off the field.

Player and coach have a close relationship dating to Burfict’s rookie season in Cincinnati. Guenther was Burfict's position coach in 2012, and the two fostered a strong working relationship during a long-night cram session before a Sept. 23 game against Washington. Thomas Howard hurt his knee, Burfict recalled, and Guenther told him he would start and play out of position. Burfict was a middle linebacker by trade, but the Bengals needed him on the outside.

“It was like 8 p.m., and he took his time out to set the trash cans up and go through the whole playbook over like two hours with me,” Burfict said in a conference call after he signed with the Raiders. “I got like nine tackles that game, and I just looked at him and said, ‘I appreciate that. You took your time out when you could’ve just gone home.' Ever since then, it has been a close relationship to where I know his kids and his wife. We go out to dinner. It’s a good time to have a good relationship like that with a coach.”

That should help Guenther’s system run smoothly, an important factor with so much youth on defense. Burfict can be an on-field coordinator if he can stay healthy and out of trouble with the NFL.

Burfict said he’s fully fit after concussion problems last season and health issues in recent years. The NFL has disciplined him several times for vicious, illegal after-the-whistle hits that some consider dirty. That includes a nasty blow dropped on former Steelers receiver and new Raiders teammate Antonio Brown that generated plenty of negative press.

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Burfict doesn’t consider his style poor form.

“I’m not a dirty player,” Burfict said. “I play a physical position at middle linebacker. I can’t go in there playing patty-cake. If I do that, I’m going to get run over. I have 300-plus-pound linemen coming in trying to block me. If I play soft, I’m not doing my job. … I play a physical position where I have to put my jockstrap on right, put my cleats on right and be ready to play physical.”