Derek Carr primed for career year in Raiders' first Las Vegas season

Derek Carr primed for career year in Raiders' first Las Vegas season

Derek Carr has spent yet another offseason hearing about his job security. Hearing about the Raiders' rumored interest in other quarterbacks from Tom Brady to Justin Herbert.

But none of that noise will matter come Sept. 13 when Carr will be under center while the Raiders visit the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season.

Carr is the Raiders' starting quarterback. He has the full belief of coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. Carr took a big leap in his second season in Gruden's complex system, throwing for 4,054 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 70.4 percent of his passes and averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.

Yet, there were moments when the Raiders' offense struggled to move the ball. Explosive plays were hard to come by and scoring in the red zone was a battle unto itself. Carr was good, but he was far from perfect. There was the fourth-and-goal throw away against the Tennessee Titans and the Week 15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that was helped by an inexplicable missed call when Carr slid in bounds after a scramble but was ruled out of bounds, giving the Jaguars a free stoppage and chance to get the ball back.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Carr has been a lightning rod of sorts. Those who support him will do so until the death, and those who don't can't be convinced he's the guy. But there are plenty of reasons to believe Carr will prove to everyone he's the man to lead the Silver and Black in 2020.

Full arsenal

A lot of the Raiders and Carr's struggles have come from a deficient group of skill players but around their quarterback. Carr has had solid receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Tyrell Williams, as well as tight ends Jared Cook and Darren Waller. But he has lacked a cohesive group with explosive playmakers to spread the ball around to.

After Antonio Brown went ballistic and got himself jettisoned to parts unknown, the onus was put on Williams and Waller to fill the void. Williams got hit with a horrible bout with plantar fascitis early in the season and never was the same.

With Williams hampered, defenses bracketed Waller and Carr could only rely on rookie Hunter Renfrow to get open, be on time and make a catch. The deck was stacked against Carr in 2019. He was expecting to have a dynamic group of receivers, but that all came crashing down and he was forced to bear the brunt of said collapse.

But the Raiders restocked the cupboard in the offseason. They drafted wide receiver Henry Ruggs in the first round and Bryan Edwards in the third, along with do-everything athlete Lynn Bowden Jr. They also signed tight end Jason Witten in free agency to help on third down and in the red zone. They are better off now, with two more young playmakers than they would have been had Brown stayed.

With Ruggs and Edwards, Carr finally will have two weapons who can turn 6 yards into 60 with the ball in their hands. Ruggs' blistering speed will make him an ideal big-play talent, and Edwards is a big-body target who can go up and pluck balls out of the sky. With Williams, Renfrow, Waller and Josh Jacobs rounding out a stellar offensive cast, Carr finally has the weapons he needs to showcase his talent.

Time for a leap

Carr was good in Year 2 of Gruden's system. He set career highs in completion percentage, yards and yards per attempt in 2019, but both Gruden and Carr know the quarterback can play even better.

This will be the first time in Carr's career that he will be in the same system for the third season in a row. That continuity will be good for a quarterback entering his prime years with all the arm talent to be great.

During Gruden's first stint as Raiders head coach, Rich Gannon set what were then career highs in completion percentage, yardage, interception percentage and rating in his third season. He eclipsed some of those marks during the next year under Bill Callahan.

Still, a third year should lead to mastery of Gruden's system. That, coupled with the improved arsenal and big-play weapons, should pay big dividends for Carr.

Can't touch me

The Raiders' offensive line was one of the NFL's best in 2019, and they bring back all five starters in Rodney Hudson, Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown.

That unit didn't see a lot of time together at full health, but they still were successful at keeping Carr clean. They ranked sixth in pass protection last season, allowing 29 sacks with an adjusted sack rate of 5.9 percent. He was protected well in 2016 and had a career year where he finished third in the MVP voting and led the Raiders to the playoffs before breaking his fibula.

With the starting five intact and returning, Carr should have a clean jersey walking off the field most days.

Hardened skin

Carr has heard all the talk. Read the rumors, stories and columns. Listened to the doubts.

He has dismissed them all.

Carr no longer cares what his critics think. He's excited about being the first Raiders quarterback to take a snap in Las Vegas and plans to be doing so for a long time.

That hardened exterior and F-U mentality will serve Carr well as the Raiders look to take the jump from 7-9 to the playoffs and Carr looks to leap back into the elite quarterback discussion.

[RELATED: Mariota was 'killing' Titans as practice team QB]

Added pressure

Carr hasn't had to look over his shoulder during his entire career. No backup the Raiders had was a threat to him.

That changes in 2020. The Raiders brought in 2015 No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota to sit behind Carr. Mariota and Carr know each other and have shared experience having broken their fibula on the same day. Mariota is great teammate, an outstanding leader and will make the quarterback room strong.

He also is there to rebuild his NFL career and show he can still play. Once healthy and fully immersed in Gruden's system, Mariota will push Carr to be better. He will compete and with that added push, expect Carr to take his game to great heights.

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

A number of factors went into the Raiders' demoralizing defeat at the hands of Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. The story behind the mysterious disappearance of Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins is revealed in NBC Sports' latest Sports Uncovered podcast, which was released Thursday.

Robbins missing the biggest game of his life no doubt played a role in the 48-21 thrashing the Raiders suffered. As did coach Bill Callahan's puzzling decision to alter the game plan at the last minute. But some Raiders believe Gruden and the Bucs knew their plays and formations, making the rout all but a certainty, blaming Callahan for giving the game to his former boss.

To a few former Buccaneers, though, all of that is just a bunch of excuses.

"The fact that your center went to Tijuana and got lost, and all of a sudden, um, he's not the quarterback," said Booger McFarland, who was a defensive tackle for the Bucs. "He's not the star wideout. He's not the star defensive player. He's the center."

"I've seen [Bill] Romanowski at a couple different events," Shelton Quarles said. "I've seen Rich [Gannon] at a couple of different events. And we've had conversations, and they're like, 'Oh, well you guys got lucky because Barret Robbins was out. We had a backup center, and our game plan was to run the ball down your throat.' OK, well, then just run your game plan. If that's something you practiced all week then run that."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

As for the charge that Gruden and the Bucs knew the Raiders' plays, Tampa Bay had seen the scheme before. Every day.

"It's the same offense that Jon Gruden ran when he was there," McFarland said. "So, we practiced against the same offense for a year. So, if you're not going to change any of the same audibles that Gruden uses in Tampa, then that's on you."

In the end, Robbins' absence didn't play a huge role in the Bucs' romp. Gruden and the Buccaneers were ready for anything and everything the Raiders were going to throw at them, and Callahan was outmatched from the opening kick-off.

The Raiders approached the matchup as if they had already won the Super Bowl. Owning the league's No. 1 offense and facing a Bucs team no one expected to be there, some members of the Silver and Black were ready for the parade.

"I was like, 's--t, I'm about to get my second ring,'" defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "We about to drag these jokers. They ain't doing nothing against us. Nothing. We about to whoop these jokers."

But once Callahan made the last-minute game plan switch, Tim Brown and the rest of the Raiders entered Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego knowing they weren't bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.

"We go into the Super Bowl knowing that we don't have a chance to win," Brown said.

[RELATED: How Davis told Trask of Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance]

The Raiders' defeat at the hands of Gruden and the Bucs can be laid at the feet of many people.

Barret Robbins was an easy scapegoat at the time. The center went out and partied too hard and missed the game, so it's his fault. Years later we know better. The Raiders knew better in the moment.

Even if he had suited up, the Bucs were prepared to slow down Callahan's offensive attack. Almost like they knew what was coming.

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

Amy Trask had a conversation with Barret Robbins on the morning of Super Bowl XXXVII. The brief exchange between the then-Raiders CEO and Pro Bowl center didn’t raise any red flags.

A phone call with owner Al Davis a short while later, however, indicated that something was very wrong.

“Quite early that morning, I had gone out on a run and saw Barret in the lobby,” Trask said. “I ran into him, went up to my room and not long thereafter, Al called me and said, ‘Barrett’s not playing.' I said, ‘I just saw him in the lobby. He can play. I just had a conversation with him. He can play.’ And Al shared with me that others had made the decision to send Barret home. I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and I said, ‘We just lost the game.’ ”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders ended up getting trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, and losing their top-notch center just before the game didn’t help. The distraction of Robbins' disappearance the night before, while on a bender that carried from Friday through Saturday evening, certainly didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that coach Bill Callahan changed the game plan at the last minute, or that Jon Gruden was on the other sideline and used his knowledge of the Raiders’ scheme and personnel against the team that traded him to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason.

All of those topics are discussed during Thursday’s episode of NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast, which delves deep into Robbins’ sudden disappearance and the root causes of it, exploring the role his mental health played in that period and over his entire life.

Robbins admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to play in the game. He was not mentally able to do so after a night of partying and a mental-health episode that put him in a bad state. The Raiders evaluated Robbins after he returned to the team hotel Saturday evening and decided he wasn’t able to play.

Team doctors concluded that he wasn’t in a proper mental state to play in the biggest game of his life.

“On [Sunday] morning, I woke up and stretched and walked with Willie Brown and saw the doctors and everything,” Robbins said in an archived interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa. “And, if they would have told me I could have played, I don’t know if I could’ve at that point. To be honest with you, I was sick.”

The Raiders sent him away and checked him into the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside. It was only there, for the first time in his life, that Robbins was accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He wasn’t properly treated for the condition before then, which led to problems off the field with substances of abuse.

Robbins was transported to a hospital on Sunday and barely watched any of the game.

“I saw a couple of plays on TV,” Robbins said. “They were watching it when I got there, but I didn’t sit up and watch it. I was there while I was, you know, on suicide watch. … It was a bad situation, obviously, and to recover from that, I don’t know if I have.”

[RELATED: The real reason why Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII]

The Raiders haven’t gotten over that loss, either. It ended a short but dominant run and ushered in an era of futility unlike any in Raiders history. The Raiders have made the postseason only once since losing the Super Bowl.

The loss was difficult for those heavily invested in it. Among others, Trask took it particularly hard.

“When we lost, I cried myself to sleep that night wearing the same clothes I wore to the game,” Trask said. “I put my head on my husband’s shoulders and cried myself to sleep. But I never, ever lost sight of the fact that Barret Robbins is a human being. As badly as I felt, and as miserable as I was, and as hurt as our fans were and our organization was, I can only imagine Barret’s pain.”