Derek Carr is no stranger to change. He’s had to memorize and learn a new playbook each year as a starter in Oakland. But now, with Jon Gruden at the helm, Carr looks to benefit most from the coach’s discipline.
Former Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio surprised a lot of people after the 2016 seasn when he did not re-sign former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. After all, the Raiders finished the regular season 12-4 with an offense ranked seventh overall in points and sixth in yards. You’d think the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” would apply.
Instead, Del Rio chose to promote quarterbacks coach Todd Downing to replace Musgrave. One of the central reasons given at the time was the relationship Downing had with Raiders all-everything quarterback Derek Carr. Del Rio felt this bond would make Carr far more comfortable in the offense. The results were not what the team expected and Oakland dropped to 17th in yards and 23rd in scoring.
Clearly “comfort” isn’t the best motivator for the talented young quarterback.
I’m just trying to paint a picture of our relationship. I know how he feels about me. He’s told me over and over again, he’s shown me over and over again, with his actions. So when he gets after me, I probably deserve it. Secondly I love it because I know that all he wants to do is get the best out of me. – Derek Carr on his relationship with Gruden
This precipitous drop in ranking and effectiveness on offense led to the staff being released and the rehiring of head coach Jon Gruden. One thing Gruden’s hiring ensures is that nobody gets comfortable.
“I think his, you guys can feel his personality, his demeanor, his leadership,” Carr said about Gruden after OTAs today in Alameda. “Super smart, always pushing everybody. He always makes it uncomfortable for us. And now playing a lot of football, it’s so uncomfortable in practice that when we get to the games, it’s gonna be nice.”
In order to get the most from a player, a coach must challenge them mentally. Mental stress actually improves performance, as it helps players focus and process information in a chaotic environment. Throwing a lot at a guy in practice and forcing him to react will make the more scripted environment of a game seem slower.
He will feel more in control and be able to react to adversity more quickly. In a game where a few inches can make the difference between a win and a loss, reaction time could be vital. Gruden is applying the right amount of pressure on the entire team — and, most important, upon his young quarterback.
“Physically, I feel great,” Carr said. “Just mentally. I’ll meet with him every morning and he’ll say something to me in that meeting at, whatever, 5:30 a.m. He won’t bring it up the rest of the day and then he’ll throw it at me in practice. That’s after all the meetings, all the conversations, after all those things, making sure I’m still on top of the little thing that he gave me in the morning. He just continues to push me to absolutely get everything out of me. It’s been really cool, I’m not going to lie. It’s been a blessing.”
That does not mean Gruden is acting like a tyrant or dictator. It is ,like weightlifting, where using too light of a weight doesn’t stimulate growth and too heavy of a weight leads to injury. The most successful coaches are the ones who can find that perfect balance between motivating players without breaking them down. It is also important to develop meaningful personal relationships with your players, something Gruden knows all too well.
“You know how they feel about you,” Carr said speaking about Gruden and other coaches who were tough on him. “You know exactly how they feel. They would go through a wall for you. They would do anything for your family. They don’t just tell you, they show you. So that way they get after you, you have no problem doing anything for them, because it’s family.
“I’m just trying to paint a picture of our relationship. I know how he feels about me. He’s told me over and over again, he’s shown me over and over again, with his actions. So when he gets after me, I probably deserve it. Secondly I love it because I know that all he wants to do is get the best out of me.”
Worries about how a tough coach with a colorful vocabulary would get along with clean-cut Carr were obviously unwarranted. The firm coaching Carr will receive will continue to push him to improve and prevent the complacency that seemed to beset the organization last season. While it might not always be pleasant, and the words unsuitable for children, Gruden’s tough-love approach will get Carr back in the MVP discussion where he belongs. Doing so could also get the Raiders back in the playoffs, where they want to be.
Will Gruden get Carr back to an MVP candidate this season?
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) May 30, 2018