ALAMEDA – Derek Carr is maneuvering his way through his fourth offensive play caller in five seasons. There’s a learning curve with each guy, especially someone with Jon Gruden’s high expectations.
So much has been made of this offensive guru-quarterback relationship since Gruden got hired. So much has been said about it as $100 million head coach and $125 million quarterback in their first year working together.
Some have even wondered if it would also be their last. That seems incredibly premature, especially with how hard Gruden is pushing someone he believes can make every throw.
[RELATED: Gruden holds Carr to high standards]
This 2-10 season hasn’t gone well. Carr has produced some bad moments, and some good ones all while working with rookie offensive tackles and a receiver corps in constant flux.
We’re 12 games into this season now, and Carr is starting to steady after rough patches. He was trying to hard at the start, and threw some ill-advised picks in the first five weeks. Then he overcorrected, and ended up playing it too safe while trying to keep possession and survive with poor pass protection.
Carr has found a better groove the past three weeks and believes it’s something to build on in the future.
“I feel like a better football player,” Carr said Wednesday. “Anybody can say whatever they want, we can turn the film on and go deep into that and see, man this is what (Gruden, Greg Olson and Brian Callahan have) taught me, these are the things that I’m doing better, all that kind of stuff. I’m just thankful to them, I really am because since they got there, it’s been a learning process.”
At times it’s not crystal clear in the numbers. There are a few, however, that suggest he’s starting to assimilate to Gruden’s way.
He’d rather have a completed pass, a shot at a positive gain or a flat give up, and Carr is finding those options. Carr is completing a career high 69 percent of his passes, even if his spray chart shows a bunch of dink and dunk. There are times when that’s exactly what his head coach wants.
His adjusted completion percentage, a Pro Football Focus stat taking away incompletions from throwaways, batted passes, drops, spikes and times where he’s hit while throwing, stands at 78.3 percent and ranks No. 5 overall.
“I’ve never completed this many balls in games in my life,” Carr said. “We’re throwing a lot of real concepts and down the field and things like this, and if it’s not there, check down and seeing the back get eight or nine yards. It’s been a lot of fun just learning that.”
Carr has tempered the impulse to go all in, but his reputation for not taking shots downfield is ill placed. While he ranks 17th 42 pass attempts over 20 yards in the air – he’s 20th with just 10 percent of his passes travelling that far – he hits on a solid number. Per PFF, Carr ranks fifth in deep pass completion percentage. In short, he hits on half of them.
Being smart when pushing downfield is another Gruden preference. So is taking care of the football, though that’s true for most every coach.
Carr has played the past seven games interception free, showing he knows when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em and has been consistently accurate.
“I think so. I think it all helps when he gets some good looks in the pocket like he did yesterday,” Gruden said. “His preparation is excellent. His recognition is really good. He’s got a very fast mind and a really quick release. He can be really accurate if protected, and that’s a combination we like.”
Gruden has liked some of Carr’s recent play but there is always more to do. Carr’s work trying to meld with Gruden and it’s a learning process, one he heaped pressure on in camp by saying he hoped it would look like he and Gruden had been together 10 years. The bar was set then, and it hasn’t been met.
That doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made, with four chances to prove it before the season’s done.
“Coach Gruden throws a lot at his quarterbacks, and it’s been fun,” Carr said. “We’re getting to that place where we’re getting on the same page, we’re communicating. That doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be perfect and just continue to have crazy things happen, but what it does mean is that we’re going to be able to move the ball, we’re going to be efficient, we’re going to be really good together. That right there is exciting to me.”