Jon Gruden loves quarterback Derek Carr. Just ask him.
Well, that might be tough before he’s announced, as expected, as the next Raiders head coach.
So we'll have ask Gruden circa 2016. Or Gruden circa 2014, before Carr entered the NFL Draft. Don’t sweat not having a time machine. Gruden’s been on ESPN nearly a decade now, where most everything’s archived.
One problem: Gruden said nice things about most everybody, especially quarterbacks, as a broadcaster. Will he feel the same after working with him each day? We don't know that yet.
We do know that Carr made a solid first impression. The second will be far more important, as the Gruden-Carr dynamic will be critical to Raiders fortunes in coming years.
Let’s go back, for a second, to the Gruden QB Camp segment with Carr. Gruden said he’d pick Derek over his older brother David, who was 2002’s No. 1 overall pick.
“I appreciate that,” Derek said. “Let’s go win some championships, now.”
That’ll be the immediate goal when Gruden comes aboard. Maximizing Carr’s potential will go a long way toward that end, and will involve an intense relationship between quarterback and new head coach. Expect some blunt, yet constructive criticism on a regular basis. We'll see how Carr handles that.
Carr handled his first interaction with Gruden well. YouTube shows the TV segment from Gruden's QB Camp, but there was more to that event than what you saw.
“I can remember him throwing the ball like it was yesterday,” Gruden said in a conference call advancing a 2016 game between the Raiders and Texans in Mexico City. “We have two cameras set up 20 yards downfield on each hash mark, and we threw some seam passes toward them. Most of the guys hit the screen, a couple would hit the target. Derek Carr hit the bull’s eye both times and broke my cameras. He put on a show for the NFL players.”
Then Gruden said something unprompted in that conference call.
“What hasn’t been said about Carr today is about his intangibles,” Gruden said. “He’s such an upbeat kid. He has so much passion and energy and leadership. He is fun to be around. He’s a superstar.”
That round of praise came in the midst of an excellent 2016 campaign where Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate.
“To put it honestly, this guy has a cannon. He’s got a gun,” Gruden said. “He can throw it tight windows with very little movement. He has a quick release and very little lower body movement. He has an arsenal of receivers. Al Davis would be very proud of Derek Carr.”
Gruden should know. He worked for Al Davis as Raiders head coach from 1998-2001. He’ll soon work for Al’s son Mark, who took control when Al Davis died in 2011. The Raiders could announce Gruden’s second stint with the Raiders within the coming days.
Mark Davis really wanted Gruden back, and will pay handsomely for his services. Carr may well have been another attraction to return to the Raiders, among several factors. It’s hard to imagine Gruden coming to a place with a quarterback he didn’t like when winning right away was a requisite. The Raiders must keep butts in Oakland Coliseum seats and start building toward a big move to Las Vegas in 2020.
Gruden has work ahead getting Carr right after a disappointing 2017 season where he regressed in several key metrics. Carr certainly has arm talent, and the work ethic and drive to absorb Gruden’s offense. Talk of Carr being unable to handle Gruden’s often-terse coaching style seems like a stretch -- Carr doesn’t mind four-letter words, even though he prefers not to say them -- but the signal caller must prove he can handle the intensity and criticism on a daily basis from a coach notoriously hard on quarterbacks.
Charles Woodson played for Gruden and with Carr for multiple seasons. He believes Gruden can help Carr get back on track.
“I know Jon Gruden loves the quarterback position,” Woodson said last week on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. “I believe that he would have a strong interest in working with Derek Carr and getting Derek Carr to the next level. I believe he could help him out tremendously and help him become the Hall-of-Fame-type quarterback that young kid can be.”