Raiders

'No secret' why Crabtree caught three touchdowns in Raiders' win over Jets

'No secret' why Crabtree caught three touchdowns in Raiders' win over Jets

OAKLAND – The media ring surrounding Michael Crabtree’s locker eventually swelled three and four deep. The veteran Raiders receiver kept his back to the crowd, methodically prepping himself for re-entrance into street clothes and then the real world.

He turned toward the press and warned of further delay but an eventual return. He went deeper into the locker room, and never came back.

Never one for a meeting with the media, Crabtree chose to let play speak for itself.

Crabtree put on a clinic in Sunday’s 45-20 victory over the New York Jets, with six catches on as many targets for 80 yards and three touchdowns.

Nice day at the office for receiving corps’ elder statesman. Crabtree turned 30 on Thursday and celebrated the milestone with a feast on man coverage, proof positive the ol’ man’s still got it.

“He’s a baller,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “He’s one hell of a player. He comes out, and works incredibly hard. He does what it takes to win on his routes and help win ball games. He does it all.”

Crabtree opened the scoring on a play originally called a run. Quarterback Derek Carr liked Crabtree’s matchup and checked to a pass, then floating a fade to him in the left corner of the end zone.

The second score came from deep. Carr hit Crabtree 20 yards downfield, and then Crabtree, juked his man and cut six more yards into the end zone.

The third score also worked to perfection, with Crabtree running into the end zone and cutting back toward the pylon to catch the ball. He made each one look easy, and continued his run as a reliable scoring target. Crabtree scored 17 touchdowns in his first two Raiders seasons and added three to this year's tally. It marked Crabtree's second three-TD day. He first accomplished the feat last year in Baltimore.

Carr knows Crabtree scoring in bunches is no fluke.

“The thing that young kids need to know about him is that every day Crab catches a ball in practice, he finishes to the end zone,” Carr said. “He’s used to scoring. When you get a guy with talent like that – catching fades, doing everything – obviously it’s easy if he goes up and gets it. Every route that he runs, every day he catches, he finishes. He does it in the offseason, he does it in training camp, he does it in practice.

“There’s no secret when he has a day like this, why he got in the end zone. Not only does he have the talent, but he always works his tail off to make sure he’s finishing.”

Derek Carr building solid chemistry with Raiders' brand new WR crew

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Derek Carr building solid chemistry with Raiders' brand new WR crew

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.”

[RELATED: Carr annoyed by speculation Raiders would draft another quarterback]

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.”

Watch Antonio Brown catch deep TD from Raiders QB Derek Carr at OTAs

Watch Antonio Brown catch deep TD from Raiders QB Derek Carr at OTAs

Derek Carr and Antonio Brown connected on their first deep touchdown as Raiders teammates Wednesday in Alameda. 

It doesn't count in the box score and there's no points on a scoreboard, but this is still a pretty sight to see for Raiders fans. 

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DC young Fly #🐔plan

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Brown burned defensive back Lamarcus Joyner as Carr hit his new star receiver in stride at organized team activities. The former Steelers star also shared a handful of pictures from his first day in Raiders gear with the caption "#RaiderNation I love football and winning." 

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#RaiderNation I love football and winning

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Brown missed the first day of OTAs on Tuesday, but head coach Jon Gruden wasn't worried about his absence

"He's been working extremely hard learning our offense and we're excited to get him out here," Gruden said. 

[RELATED: Derek Carr was 'annoyed' by speculation]

The Raiders acquired Brown from the Steelers this offseason for two 2019 NFL Draft picks. He then signed a three-year contract worth over $50 million with the Silver and Black. 

Brown is a four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler.