The romancing phase was surprisingly short and sweet, and beginning today the question becomes whether this shotgun marriage between rookie quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders is also enduring.
There have been a few of those in the recent past. The Raiders fall in and out of love with quarterbacks faster than teenagers in springtime. Only a few weeks ago, veteran Matt Schaub, acquired from Houston during the offseason, was proclaimed the undisputed 2014 starter and projected as an experienced, stabilizing influence.
And where is Schaub now? Standing on the sideline. Holding the clipboard. Nursing a sore elbow and bruised ego. His days of mentoring Carr, the former Fresno State standout, ended early because of the sore elbow and because the Raiders’ second-round draft pick impressed during practices and then choreographed four touchdown drives in the preseason finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
Raiders officials liked – no, loved – what they saw in the 6-foot-3, 214-pound rookie, and wasted little time ruminating about the transition or the almost impossible circumstances Carr inherits. He will debut Sunday on the road against a New York Jets team coached by Rex Ryan and known for its stiff run defense.
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Additionally, Carr will be the first rookie quarterback to start for the Raiders on opening day and the only member of the 2014 draft class scheduled to take the first regular-season snaps.
Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, the three quarterbacks drafted ahead of Carr, are being eased into their roles as future starters. Nurture, develop, start. That’s usually the preferred way to conduct business.
But consecutive 4-12 seasons can mess with conventional thought. Raiders officials and coaches know they don’t have much time to play around – to wait around for another, more experienced quarterback to (a) get healthy and (b) establish himself as the legitimate starter – and have seen enough from Carr to justify the move, as crazy as it appears.
Carr undoubtedly appreciates the degree of difficulty his new job entails even more than most. His older brother, David, was the first overall pick in 2002 and opening-day starter for the expansion Houston Texans, with the scars to prove it. Few No. 1 selections have been more roundly disparaged or referred to more often as busts – deservedly or otherwise – during the past two decades.
The younger Carr will start for a franchise that almost could be mistaken for an expansion team. General manager Reggie McKenzie spent the offseason trying to plug holes and upgrade numerous positions, including getting bigger and deeper on the offensive line and bolstering his offensive backfield.
Part of the theory for committing to Carr is a belief that his mobility, powerful arm and quick release provide a better complement.
“He’s a guy that creates with his feet,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, “and also we’ve seen his arm strength and we’ve seen his ability to fit the ball into the tight windows. He’s got to go out and be Derek Carr, (but) we like what we’ve seen thus far. We’ve been able to accelerate his growth just based on a number of factors, intelligence being one of them. But also the number of years that he played in college.”
Raiders coach Dennis Allen saw Carr for the first time at the Senior Bowl and was convinced the former Bulldogs star was the class of the quarterback crop. The athleticism. The footwork. The ability to make all the throws. His scorebook was a carbon copy of Olson’s and McKenzie’s. The combination of physical tools and other assets – poise, life experiences and coping skills – elevated Carr above the more publicized Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater.
Though only 23, Carr in many ways is an old soul. He’s been married since 2012 and has a 13-month-old son who was born with a life-threatening congenital intestinal disorder. At this time last year, Derek and Heather Carr lived through a nightmare of emergency surgeries, late-night scares and exhaustion. As Dallas recovered, Derek rushed home from Bulldogs practices to prepare bottles, wash dishes and tend to other daily chores.
The three-year starter, who broke virtually all of Fresno State’s passing records, somehow still led the nation in total offense (5,199 yards), passing yards (5,082) and passing touchdowns (50). And what number would be placed on perspective?
“When I step on the football field, this is just fun for me,” Carr said earlier in the week. “I get to be out here, and we get paid to do this? We’re playing football. I think that just everything we went through in our lives … the responsibilities, the stresses, those things don’t matter to me. This isn’t stressful. It’s a game. I’m obviously going to be excited, but as Wiz (center Stefen Wisniewski) tells me all the time, if we can just keep getting less and less rookie, we’ll be good.”