Derek Carr has gone from the bench to rookie starter, from 3,000-yard passer to nearly 4,000 with a pair Pro Bowl selections while leading the franchise back to postseason relevance.
And still the ex-Fresno State star, a second-round pick by Oakland in the 2014 NFL Draft, sees no reason he can’t get even better.
“I really hope I get better every year,” Carr said Tuesday, addressing reporters amid the second week of organized team activities, or OTA’s. “It’s crazy to say year 3 to year 4 now. … I’m getting old but it’s crazy to say that and think, ‘Oh yeah, there’s more out there’ because there is. There’s always room to improve and I’m going work to try to do that.
“Numbers and awards and all that stuff can be what it is. I just want to make sure every day I’m coming out here, I’m working my tail off so I do get better. The ultimate goal is winning the Super Bowl. Once we do that I’m sure I’ll find something I did wrong that season and fix those things.”
Carr missed the final two games of the 2016 season, including the Raiders’ one-and-done playoff appearance, because of a broken right fibula. He completed 357 of 560 passes for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns against six interceptions – slightly fewer yards than he threw for in 16 games in 2015 but with a 96.7 quarterback rating compared to 91.1 as an NFL sophomore. He tied for third in NFL Most Valuable Player balloting and won the Castrol Edge Clutch Performer of the Year honor.
Playing for a new offensive coordinator awaits as another challenge, although it’s a familiar face in Todd Downing who spent the past two seasons as quarterbacks coach.
Downing relishes having the gunslinger leading the offense.
“I mean this sincerely … he wants to be great,” Downing said. “He understands for him to be great it’s always a learning process. For him, it’s just consistency and taking those little details and refining them as much as he possibly can so when he got the perfect look; when he got the opportunity to attack one-on-one, he’s accurate as he can be.”
Carr had seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in 2016 as the Raiders went 12-4 and made their first postseason appearance since 2002.
“Derek’s growth and extension as a quarterback is a tribute to his hard work,” Downing said. “I can tell you he’s only upped his sense of urgency to put out the best version of himself. I would anticipate his hard work paying off.”
Carr and Downing have grown so close that Carr sees him “like a big brother.”
Last week, though, it was Carr who played the role of mentor, talking Downing, 36, into joining Twitter. Downing did, and as of Tuesday afternoon was nearing 6,000 followers @CoachTD. They also played a round of golf with Calvin Johnson, the star receiver for the Detroit Lions before he walked away from the game after the 2015 season. (And as Raiders fans reluctantly learned, no, Johnson is not coming out of retirement to join Oakland).
A full-go for OTA’s after months of rehab for his broken leg, Carr said he is trying to rein himself in but not because of the injury.
“I’m trying to do a better job at not doing too much with all the leeway (Downing is) giving me,” Carr said. “First four days (of OTAs), and even today, I’m catching myself doing a little too much.
“I have to slow down and I have to take a step back,” Carr said, making sure he doesn’t over-inflate his role and risk hurting the team overall. “I have to be consistent in doing those kind of things and I have to do it in such a way it’s what coach Downing wants. I have to honor his position and do exactly what he wants.”