ALAMEDA -- Derek Carr has been asked to adjust and adapt during his first professional season, and we aren’t talking about an isolated obstacle. The Raiders franchise quarterback has weathered a steady steam of new and different and sometimes worse.
He had to adjust to new head coach Jon Gruden and his offensive scheme. He has adjusted to being the roster’s focal point after sharing the spotlight with Khalil Mack. Then Amari Cooper got traded near midseason, other veterans got hurt and, save Jared Cook and Seth Roberts, is throwing to new and inexperienced replacements.
He has dealt with inconsistent pass protection, and more hits than ever. He’s dealing with heightened criticism during a woeful 2-9 season mercifully heading down the home stretch.
Carr has somehow weathered it all with a smile, even while frustration builds and fuels his competitive drive during a second NFL rebuild he didn’t want.
“He has been put in a very tough position this year, but he has handled it with grace and honor,” tight end Jared Cook said. “He’s doing what we need him to do for this team.”
Gruden understands that as well, meaning all this change must be factored into his 2018 evaluation. It muddies the waters some as Gruden tries to make proper decisions for the future of his franchise.
Gruden says he’s making the best of difficult circumstances.
“I think he’s done well in all areas,” Gruden said. “He’s adapting to a new offense, he’s adapting to new skill receivers around him. We’ve had numerous injuries up front. We’ve had a new feature back. He’s had a lot of change, but he’s doing well. He’s taking care of the football. I don’t know when the last interception is that he has thrown.”
It has been a long, long time. Since Week 5, in fact. He threw an interception in the end zone, a yard from pay dirt. It was his third pick in the end zone in five games, trying to push the ball into tight windows and make high-risk, high-reward plays.
“I was just trying to figure the offense out, feel things out, being too aggressive and trying too much to help us win,” Carr said. “Really, when I would make mistakes it actually hurt us, so just doing my best to take care of the football and to put our defense in good situations.”
Going six games without a pick has been viewed through different lenses. Some point to his lack of deep throws during this time, and his willingness to make the safe throw even if it’s short of some in-game objectives.
Carr is doing what he’s told, and keeping the football safe.
“I think he realizes right now that winning the turnover battle gives this team right now the best chance to win. He’s done a great job of taking care of the ball.”
The Raiders aren’t very good right now, and they can’t give up easy scores or ruin offensive opportunities while scratching for victories. Gruden has also tried to mitigate pass protection issues by calling for short quick passes, the same that Carr gets knocked for frequently. Things opened up some last week in Baltimore, and Carr was able to take some shots downfield.
The passing game is clearly out of sync with so many new options in the lineup that don’t have the same chemistry with Carr and longer-tenured receivers of the past.
“It’s not like [Michael Crabtree] is back and [Cooper] is back,” Carr said. “We are learning each other and it’s going to bode us well in the future. It’s going to be nice, but right now there are growing pains.
“We work our tails off to do right and I know those guys are working their tail off. It’s going to bode well for us here, hopefully, soon.”
Carr has excelled when playing with a full deck, working with solid protection and a strong stable of versatile receivers. He’s also on his fourth coordinator and third offensive system in five seasons, a fact that can’t be ignored.
“I look forward to some day, where we have a lot of pieces in place and we have some continuity, and everybody is used to playing with one another,” Gruden said. “I just think this guy has a real high ceiling and he has a lot of pride in his performance. Taking care of the football and being available every day, on the practice field and game day, is a priority.”