USA TODAY Sports’ Lindsay H. Jones looks at how the big offseason changes in the AFC South will affect the division’s 2017 NFL season.
USA TODAY Sports
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Derek Carr sounds like a man fueled by unfinished business.
This is what tends to happen when a magical season turns into a nightmare, as was the case when the emerging quarterback suffered a broken left fibula in Week 16 and the Oakland Raiders’ hopes for a Super Bowl run essentially went up in smoke.
“I’ve completely gotten over it,” Carr said Tuesday, on the first day of a three-day mandatory minicamp, speaking specifically about his physical state after surgery and rehab.
“But I have not gotten over the fact that we lost our last game,” he added. “I was really looking forward to our guys going on a run and making a chance to play in the Super Bowl. That was tough, but we get another shot at it.”
Actually, the Raiders lost their last two games after Carr was injured amid suspect circumstances – exposed on a fourth-quarter pass with Oakland leading 33-14 against the Indianapolis Colts. They lost the regular-season finale at Denver, costing them the division. Then, forced to start rookie quarterback Connor Cook after then-backup Matt McGloin was hurt in Week 17, they were drubbed in their playoff game at Houston.
For all that went right during a 12-4 season – the franchise’s first winning campaign in 14 years – the Raiders are still on a learning curve when it comes this new territory of being a legit contender.
That theme applies to Carr, too, who made steady strides in his first three seasons. He had his most efficient campaign in 2016, with a 96.7 passer rating (eighth in the NFL) and a stellar 28-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Now he’s challenged to take another step.
“That’s what you push for,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said.
Del Rio wants Carr, 26, to take more ownership at the line of scrimmage, with coaches (including new coordinator Todd Downing, promoted after two years as Carr’s position coach) trusting him with more leeway to change plays.
Yes, the bar is rising for Carr – as it should for a young quarterback who could be on the verge of a new contract that projects to be in the range of, if not exceed, the package that Andrew Luck got last year from the Colts, which averages $24.594 million per season.
In a passing league, the best quarterbacks – see Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees – have a knack for consistently putting their team in positions to win cat-and-mouse games against defenses.
How Carr rolls with his additional responsibility might be a key marker for the Raiders’ prospects of growing into a team that can challenge not only the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, but also the AFC West champ Kansas City Chiefs, who have won seven of the past eight meetings against Oakland, including the last five.
Carr describes the task as follows: “Get us in the right play, but do it fast.”
With offseason tweaks that include new dimensions in running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, more options loom for a unit that was already potent enough rank sixth in the NFL in total yards and seventh in scoring last season.
Carr certainly seems game for more command at the line. The past two years, he took some occasional liberties with since-departed coordinator Bill Musgrave’s system and went off script to switch plays.
“Doing it here and there, on my own, just being silly,” he said.
“Just do it the right way,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been working on all offseason.”
It sure beats rehabbing from ankle surgery. As demonstrated during Tuesday’s practice – when he sometimes scrambled and other times moved to buy time in the pocket before zipping tight throws – all is well with his physical comeback.
It has been several weeks since he regained full confidence in his foot – a process that included being tackled by his wife and kids before hitting the practice field.
“I was just thinking about it the other day,” Carr said. “It’s been so far in the past, I thought it was (injured) … like two years ago.”
What doesn’t seem so long ago, though, was the lost opportunity to make a playoff run.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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