Raiders QB Derek Carr shows progress in Jon Gruden's system


Raiders QB Derek Carr shows progress in Jon Gruden's system

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.”

Will Jared Cook return to Raiders? Jon Gruden addresses tight end's future


Will Jared Cook return to Raiders? Jon Gruden addresses tight end's future

MOBILE, Ala. — Raiders coach Jon Gruden offered a positive view on the status of tight end Jared Cook who is now a free agent.

“I had a good meeting with Jared before he left,” Gruden said, “and we'll do the best we can to get him back. It will be competitive. I'm sure there are a lot of teams who look at the tape and put him on their wish list.”  

Cook caught a career-high 68 of his 101 targets for 896 yards and six touchdowns. His 67.6 catch percentage was also a career-high. 

Cook recorded four 100-yard games in his 10th season in the league. His 180-yard performance against the Rams in Week 1 broke the franchise record for yards by a tight end in a single game that was previously held by Todd Christensen, who caught 11 passes for 173 yards against the Chargers on Nov. 20, 1986.

Gruden was pleased that Cook will be in playing in the Pro Bowl. He will participate as Travis Kelce’s replacement. 

“Jared made the Pro Bowl, which is great for him,” Gruden said. “We’re really happy about that. I thought he should have gotten in to start with.”  

Former Ravens sixth-round pick Darren Waller could be a possible replacement for Cook. He was signed late in the season off of Baltimore's practice squad and played in the final four games. He caught all six passes thrown his way for 75 yards. 

The Raiders will need to focus on adding a tight end during the offseason through free agency or the draft. The staff’s involvement at the Senior Bowl is one of the opportunities they will need to take advantage of.

Jon Gruden knows firsthand why Saints NFC title loss 'will sting forever'


Jon Gruden knows firsthand why Saints NFC title loss 'will sting forever'

MOBILE, Ala. – Jon Gruden reached out to New Orleans head coach Sean Payton after the Saints lost the NFC championship on Sunday, largely due to a blown no-call on an obvious pass interference violation.

The Raiders head coach knows all too well both Payton and the pain felt after losing a chance to advance in the playoffs due to an officiating mistake.

Gruden was, after all, victimized by the Tuck Rule. The New England Patriots beat the Raiders back in the 2001 AFC divisional round largely because of a call that negated Tom Brady’s lost fumble, which would have essentially secured a Raiders victory.

“That’s one of the reasons Sean and I have talked,” Gruden said Monday during Senior Bowl week. “What do you say to your team? It’s tough. You lose a game like that, it’s tough. It’s tough to lose a game, period. It’s tough that it came down to that.”

Gruden has strong feelings on instant replay, but didn’t want to comment on whether pass interference calls should be reviewable. By rule, the egregious non-call in the L.A. Rams’ victory over the Saints wasn’t allowed to undergo a review.

Payton was despondent after the overtime loss to Los Angeles, saying the NFL told him shortly after the game that pass interference should have been called.

While the Tuck Rule Game happened 17 years ago, Gruden and several Raiders involved in that game are still bothered by the end result. That’s why Gruden believes the Saints might not ever get over such a loss.

“No. I don’t think so,” Gruden said. “If you really want to dwell on it, you won’t ever get over it. It’s the last time that team will ever be together. It will never be the same. Those guys fought long and as hard as they could. It will sting forever.”

Gruden and Payton have discussed the Saints’ situation already, and will again down the road.

“Sean and I worked together a long time ago (in Philadelphia), and I was involved in a playoff game that ended in quite dramatic fashion,” Gruden said. “So is he, now. He and I will have a couple of hot dogs and a couple Cokes and talk about it at some point in the future, I’m sure.”

Gruden isn't the only Raiders still sore over the Tuck Rule Game. Charles Woodson caused the fumble that was negated, and it still bothers him greatly. The Raiders were awesome that year, and had a real chance to win the Super Bowl if his big play had stood as a fumble.