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.”

Brian Billick says Mike Mayock has to get used to Jon Gruden cussing him out


Brian Billick says Mike Mayock has to get used to Jon Gruden cussing him out

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has never worked in an NFL front office, but that's not the only thing he will have to get used to, at least according to an ex-NFL head coach.

"On a daily basis, he has to get used to the fact that Jon's gonna come into the office and motherf--k him," Brian Billick told Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier. 

But Billick, a current NFL Network analyst who was a colleague of Mayock's while he was the outlet's draft expert, thinks Mayock will be able to hold his own in his relationship with Gruden. The Super Bowl-winning coach called Mayock "as good of an evaluator of talent as I have been around." 

"He does the work, he grinds the tape, he goes to workouts," Billick told Tanier. "He knows what talent is."

Gruden and Mayock's dynamic is unique, to say the least. Not only is Mayock a first-time executive, but the head coach ultimately has final say over the Raiders' personnel decisions. 

On top of that, the Silver and Black enter a critical offseason. After trading away Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper last year, the Raiders are armed with three picks in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They also have more salary-cap space than all but six teams, according to Over The Cap.

Yet success can't be expected overnight, according to Billick. Mayock will have to develop as an executive and surround himself with the right staff, Billick said, and that takes time.

"Putting that infrastructure around him, he's not had to do that before," Billick said. "How's the scouting department going to work? Who will do what? What's the interaction going to be?"

[RELATED: Why Raiders could try to sign star RB Bell in free agency]

He will have to learn on the job, but time is a luxury that Raiders fans in the Bay Area don't necessarily have. The team is in conversations to spend one final season at the Oakland Coliseum in 2019, but the Raiders intend to complete their move to Las Vegas in time for the 2020 season.

Gruden spoke about wanting to give Oakland fans "two of the best years of football that I can possibly help deliver" when he took the job last January.

The first was a 4-12 season highlighted by the trades of two former first-round picks. If the Raiders are going to improve upon that in 2019, Mayock will have to learn a lot very quickly. 

NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing


NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing

Finally, Le'Veon Bell will get his wish and become a free agent

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told local reporters the team will not place a franchise or transition tag on Bell this offseason. The two-time All-Pro running back sat out the entire 2018 season while in contract disputes with the team. 

"Le'Veon is still a great player," Colbert said. "We can't afford to use any other type of tags. Le'Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."

Bell appeared to be pretty happy about the decision.

Bell declined to sign a franchise tender last year, turning down $14.5 million as he held out the entire season. 

Now that he will be a free agent, Bell certainly won't remain a Steeler. Could he join the Raiders, though? 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks he could be a good fit.

Bell certainly does fit all three phases for the Raiders -- need, money and big name. Let's start with need. 

The Raiders' top two running backs from last season -- Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch -- are both unrestricted free agents. Both are also over 30 years old, and have nowhere near Bell's talent. And the team's third-leading rusher, Jalen Richard, is a restricted free agent. 

When Bell, who just turned 27, last played in 2017, he rushed for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. The Raiders' trio previously mentioned combined for fewer than 100 more yards rushing in 2018. Plus, Bell is a threat as a receiver as well -- he has 2,660 career receiving yards, too. 

[RELATED: Le'Veon Bell to Raiders? Oddsmakers like Jon Gruden and Co.'s chances]

Secondly, the money. Bell wants to get paid, and the Raiders have the cash to do so. They will have roughly $81 million in salary cap space this offseason, with plenty of holes to fill on the roster. 

Lastly, the star power. The Raiders could certainly use and Bell certainly has it. Year 1 of Jon Gruden's return didn't go as planned.

To turn things around and kick off their move to Vegas in 2020, Bell could be the perfect player as the new face of their franchise.