Building chemistry with new Raiders receivers ranks high among Derek Carr’s offseason program priorities. It was a major topic of conversation last week with the unquestioned starting quarterback and high-priced target Tyrell Williams, and also trickled down onto head coach Jon Gruden’s plate.
“Time spent and value received is something I always say,” Gruden said then. “You have to spend time with people in the meeting room, on the practice field. And you need game time together to really be great. I think more time we can spend together, the better.”
Again, Gruden was talking about quarterbacks and receivers playing pitch and catch. That exact quote applies to the bond between passer and play caller.
There were lots of nice things said last spring and summer about Carr and Gruden sharing an offensive wavelength, about similar work ethics and early-morning meetings and practice pop quizzes where Carr knew all the answers.
Gruden’s system is vast, dense and reliant of quarterbacks making proper adjustments. As such, advanced math isn’t mastered in a day. Or a season, even with maximum effort expelled to do so.
Time and increased perspective helped Carr see that.
“I thought then that I felt good, like ‘Oh yeah, I got this,’” Carr said. “And standing here now, I’m like, oh my gosh. I’m on like another planet.”
It’s rare that Carr gets a second season with a play caller. Gruden’s his fourth through five full seasons, and this offseason’s only the second time he’ll work through one with the same coordinator.
Quarterback-receiver chemistry requires time and repetition. Same thing goes for a vital player-coach dynamic still setting into stone.
“It’s the second time in my career I’m getting to say the same things back to back,” Carr said. “That’s, honestly I’m not saying it for any other reason, but it’s really nice. To look at those guys that have had really long, successful careers, being in that same system, you’re saying the same things. … It’s really nice to be able to have those conversations, because I’m not going in there, like I was telling you guys, I was literally learning it and going out 30 minutes later to the best of my ability the way coach wants it.
"Now, I have a whole year, whole offseason, whole Phase 1, Phase 2 under my belt.
“It’s not comforting in any way, but it’s nice to know that I’m speaking the same language, I don’t have to learn a whole new set of terminology.”
That helps Carr explain the system to new receivers, a new offensive tackle and new blood in the backfield. He can speak like an authority, no longer having to study, absorb and apply on the fly.
That will be important in what many consider a vital year in the Carr-Gruden dynamic. The head coach/offensive play caller/final say on personnel matters gave Carr some dynamic receiving weapons, massive right tackle Trent Brown and first-round running back Josh Jacobs. The Raiders' offense has received significant upgrades, meaning a major uptick’s expected in the 2019 season.
There’s another reason why.
“I know Coach Gruden and the way he thinks now,” Carr said. “I’ve played a season with him to where I know what he expects on this down and distance. When he calls a certain play, I know what he wants me to look for and if it’s not there, get it to this. I’m already a step ahead with that. I checked a play today and he was just sitting back there laughing, like we haven’t even talked about it yet, but we’re on that same page already.”
Gruden believes Carr will run his offense well with so many new pieces and, as he has all offseason, continued to speak of his quarterback in glowing terms. That’s why the bar is set so high.
“He’s one of the best arm talents in football,” Gruden said. “I think he’s a lot more athletic than people think. I think if we can get some continuity in this building with the system and with the supporting cast and we can improve the defense, I think he can be one of the best in football.
"I’m going to hold him to that standard, and I think that’s what he wants.”