Quarterbacks Derek Carr and Blake Bortles became friends during the 2014 draft process, and when the Jaguars hired a new offensive coordinator before last season, Carr texted his Jacksonville counterpart with an informal scouting report, “just trying to help him out.”
Bortles’ new coordinator, Greg Olson, had been Carr’s first in the NFL during his rookie season in Oakland. While the Raiders’ game at Jacksonville on Sunday is rife with connections on both sidelines, including Jack Del Rio returning to the site of his first head-coaching job, it is Olson whose influence will extend into both offensive huddles.
Carr and Bortles were among the first four quarterbacks selected in the 2014 draft. Bortles went to the Jaguars with the third overall pick and the next day the Raiders used the 36th pick on Carr. Both were fast-tracked into starting roles – Carr immediately and Bortles four games into his rookie season.
Yet until the week before the Raiders’ 2014 opener, Carr recalled this week, he was unsure of his standing with the team. Oakland had veteran quarterback Matt Schaub, and when Carr got a text from Olson saying that then-head coach Dennis Allen wanted to talk to him, he thought, “Who knows what this conversation is going to be like?”
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“I go in there (to Allen’s office), and he says, ‘Are you ready to be a starter?’ ” Carr said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, of course – sweet.’
“I go to Ollie’s office, and he just says, ‘All right, this is the third-down package they have.’ He just went straight into it. Of course, congratulations and all that. But, ‘Let’s work,’ you know?”
Carr had a rough initiation, as the Raiders started 0-10 and finished the season with three wins. But Carr said this week, “I owe (Olson) a lot of credit” for helping his adjust to the NFL.
In particular, Carr says Olson played a big part in keeping him upright and on the field in his rookie year – something Carr’s older brother, former No. 1 overall pick David, did not have as he was memorably sacked an NFL-record 76 times during his rookie season in 2002.
The Raiders tied for the sixth-fewest sacks allowed in the league in 2014 (28) and fourth-fewest quarterback hits (56). Carr, the franchise’s first rookie quarterback to start Week 1, went on to throw for 3,270 yards with the second-most attempts (599) and completions (348) ever by a league rookie.
“That’s his biggest thing is limiting hits on quarterbacks,” Carr said of Olson. “He puts a lot on the quarterback to know protections, to know their blitz schemes. And a lot of that has to do with knowing where to go with the football also, because if you don’t know and you hold onto it that extra half-second, you’re going to get hit.
“He just does such a great job all-around with quarterbacks to teach you how to get the ball out of your hands, check to certain things, take a hit off and those kinds of things.”
Now in his second year under Olson, Bortles gave a similar assessment this week, saying Olson’s emphasis on protections has “made me learn our scheme and our protections, and then defenses and fronts and all that stuff.” Bortles said “that’s helped out tremendously.”
Despite his lower draft number, Carr enters this week’s matchup with the better career record (13-24 to 10-24 for Bortles) and passer rating this season (99.1 to 80.3), and he leads a Raiders team that is tied with Denver atop the AFC West at 4-2. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have won their past two games after an 0-3 start, beating Chicago last weekend on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to Arrelious Benn late in the fourth quarter.
“They’re both tremendous competitors,” Olson told reporters in Jacksonville this week. “They’re young quarterbacks that were thrown in the league and had to play as rookies. They both have gone through changes in coordinators, but they’re just tremendous competitors, and they both prepare very well. They’re both very intelligent players.”
Bortles said he and Carr bonded before the draft at the combine and rookie symposium and actually visited the Jaguars at the same time. Bortles, Johnny Manziel (22nd overall) and Teddy Bridgewater (32nd) were the three quarterbacks taken before Carr. But Carr said this week that while “you always remember those guys” being part of the same class, “you don’t really think about it” as a source of motivation.
“He’s a good friend, obviously,” Carr said of Bortles. “Being able to see him out there and watch him play will be fun. But this will be the one time I don’t root for him.”