ALAMEDA -– Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has often been asked to compare, then contrast his rookie experience to Year 2.
Much as changed for the 24-year-old signal caller in 12 months, so the query comes natural.
Last year at this point in the NFL schedule, Carr was entering his first week as an NFL starting quarterback. Everything was bigger, brighter and happening really fast after a preseason spent behind Matt Schaub.
Now Carr knows it’s the same basic game he’s always played. The field is still 100 yards long. The goal is, and always will be, to reach the end zone.
It’s the same game, but Carr has a refined mentality heading into an important 2015 season.
“I always heard guys like Peyton [Manning] and Troy Aikman talk about those first 16 games you start, you just take as much experience as you can,” Carr said after Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously, you’re still young entering Year 2. There are still going to be areas where you need to learn and grow, but that jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is huge, and I’ve seen it, man.
“Just the game has slowed down. Little pump fakes, little looking there and doing things, things before the snap that I’ve learned through experience, I think that that’s the biggest jump for me.”
Carr had a functional, at times productive rookie campaign. He avoided sacks, didn’t give the ball away. That’s two big pluses there. Critics point to a terrible 5.5 yards per passing attempt and difficulties on the road as signs of trouble. Carr proponents will excuse those things by saying he didn’t have any weapons and that he didn’t have any professional experience.
He gained some last season by taking his lumps, playing through pain and finally learning what it takes to NFL football game. Those moments were educational, and will be carried on to a 2015 campaign where he has an improved supporting cast.
“At this time last year I knew I was the starter for about three days,” Carr said. “This time around, obviously it’s a little different. You have a whole offseason to prepare for the season. You know what to work on. You know what’s going to happen. You’ve already played in the games. You’ve already seen it. So there are a lot of benefits, obviously, that were not here last year that we have this year. I’m definitely excited and just ready to compete.”
Carr has been preparing well for this season. He used the preseason to fine tune, experiment and establish rapports with new teammates. As the unquestioned starter, he didn’t worry about exhibition stats. He focused on learning instead.
He also bonded with new wide receivers, and has found a way to lead this team despite relative inexperience. He’s really getting to know teammates, trying to inspire confidence with actions and work ethic. That mission was accomplished when he was named a captain by his teammates.
“I think it comes natural for him,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’re not asking anybody to be someone they’re not. We want our guys to express themselves and be who they are and collectively buy into the idea of being unselfish and together on the same page fighting for a common goal.”
The next step in Carr’s is the most important. It’s finally time to show improvement on the field in games that count. That begins in earnest Sunday against Cincinnati.