ALAMEDA, Calif. — Derek Carr has seen two coaches get fired, fellow stars get traded and the roster get overhauled numerous times in five seasons as Oakland Raiders quarterback.
The latest change for Carr came this week when the Raiders fired general manager Reggie McKenzie, the man who drafted him in 2014 and negotiated the $125 million contract that made Carr the face of the franchise.
“There has been a lot of turnover,” Carr said Wednesday. “Not only in the last five years, but in the last 12 months. There has been a lot of turnover. A lot of different things; systems, players, obviously the GM, coaches. It just teaches you that you can’t control anything outside of what you can control. The best thing that you can do is show up every day and give it everything that you have because anything outside of that is out of your control.”
In a span of less than a year, Carr has watched the departures of coach Jack Del Rio, coordinator Todd Downing, 2014 draft mate Khalil Mack and No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper.
Finding His Groove
Amid that turnover and more losing than he’d care to endure, Carr somehow is playing some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, topping a 120 rating in consecutive games for just the second time in his career.
“I feel more confident in our system,” Carr said. “I feel like my reads are quicker. I feel like I can get through things and eliminate things faster. That feels better. So, that is a different feeling. But, I didn’t feel like when you play basketball you can shoot it however you want and they’re going in no matter what. I didn’t have a feeling like that.”
Carr has taken time to find his groove in coach Jon Gruden’s offense. He began the year overly aggressive, throwing eight interceptions in the first five games, including two on first-down plays in the red zone.
He then got overly cautious, failing to complete a single pass that traveled more than 10 yards downfield twice in a span of three games.
But he finally has struck the proper balance in recent weeks. He has gone a franchise-record eight straight games without an interception and has regained his deep touch. Carr has completed nine passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield the past two games — against Kansas City and Pittsburgh, equaling his total from his previous six games combined.
New Attitude After Gruden Meeting
His passer rating is 16 points higher in seven games without Cooper than it was in six games before his top receiver was traded to Dallas.
“He can make all the throws,” Gruden said. “I mean, he can make passes that very few guys on the planet can make, and he can make them confidently. He doesn’t even think about it. When he’s off six inches, he’s mad. He can really throw the ball, he’s feeling it right now.”
Carr credits much of the improvement to a new attitude after a sit-down with Gruden in which he was told not to worry about his statistics and just to trust his instincts to do what’s right.
Much was made leading up to the start of the season about the relationship between the two. Gruden is notoriously hard on his quarterbacks and has almost never had a quarterback as young and talented as Carr.
Words of Encouragement
Carr had had predominantly defensive-minded head coaches in his career and had to adjust to the more hands-on approach from Gruden. Carr said he has a tendency to try to please and knows he must trust his own gut more often. That’s why Gruden’s words of encouragement were so helpful.
“It was around the early, middle of the season where he just kind of sat me down and said, ‘Let’s not take your right arm out of things. Let’s just take it back to the simple things,'” Carr said. “We didn’t cut anything out. I just think that the way he was starting to word things was different. Instead of every little detail, because if you give me 100 details I’m going to try to do 100 all correct, now he’s said, ‘Well let me give you 50 details and let’s just let your talent take over the rest.’ We’ve been doing that and correcting as we go and adding here and there. It just helped me play freer for our team and for him. It’s been nice.”