SANTA CLARA – David Carr's locker is sandwiched between Alex Smith's and Nate Davis' in the 49ers' locker room, and it doesn't get the heavy traffic. Smith is the projected face of the offense. Davis is an intriguing project, a player with a unique ability to polarize Niners fans. Those two have been receiving a lot of interview requests the past few weeks, while Carr quietly goes about his business.
It wasn't always this way, of course.
During his first five seasons with the Houston Texans (2002-06), Carr played, and lived, under a high-powered microscope. As the first overall pick of the 2002 draft – and the first in the history of the Texans franchise – he was expected to lead the brand-new team to the big time. For five years he was celebrated, vilified, gossiped about, analyzed, quantified and generally picked clean.
Eight years after leaving Fresno State, Carr is in a much different place.
Generally considered a bust as the top pick, he has been reborn as one of those capable, unexciting backups who go from team to team and act as insurance should the starter go down with an injury.
It's not as glamorous as his former role, but Carr seems to have settled into a much more comfortable frame of mind.
"Now, it's so much about just football," he said after practice one day last week.
"All that other stuff I worried about when I was younger, how the perception was, how I came across to certain people, even my teammates ... If you master your football stuff and you go out there and you play like you're supposed to, everything will take care of itself."
Carr started only four games during one season in Carolina (2007), and none in his two years with the Giants (2008-09). He said he learned valuable lessons from veterans Vinny Testaverde and Jake Delhomme in Carolina, and from Manning, too.
Most important, he learned how to be himself.
"Especially those early days in Houston, so many people wanted you to be so many different things," Carr said. "When you think of how many first-round quarterbacks have come out – a million. And there's so many different attitudes and teams they go on, and just different ways to go. You find yourself almost trying to be all those people."
Now Carr can empty his mind and just play, and part of that is accepting his unconventional throwing motion. Rather than the classic overhead delivery of NFL quarterbacks from Johnny Unitas to Matt Ryan, Carr tends to gather the ball tight into his shoulder and let it spring away. It looks a little like he's shot-putting. Other than perhaps a greater chance of getting passes knocked down at the line, Carr's motion doesn't seem to affect his results. The ball gets out quickly, and he can make the deep throw. Still, it isn't pretty.
"I first saw myself in junior high or high school on film, and I was like, &‘It looks different.' I always thought I came over the top perfect," Carr said. "No one ever told me I threw it funky. ... I've tried to change it in the past with coaches. It looks good in drills, and honestly, I can make it look any way you want in practice. When it gets down to a game situation, it comes out like it comes out."