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Can Jon Gruden fix Derek Carr?

If the answer is yes, the Raiders may have a couple final chances to delight their long-suffering Oakland fans, and to bring a hot commodity to Las Vegas when they hightail it in 2019 or 2020. If the answer is no, the dismissal of Jack Del Rio will look like a mistake and Gruden Part 2 will be deemed a failure.

The question itself assumes a couple of baseline facts. The first is that Derek Carr is broken. The second is that Gruden is coming to Oakland.

The latter seems more likely by the hour. Gruden chipped away at one of the barriers to his return Wednesday, saying on ESPN’s “Golic & Wingo” show that he has no expectations of receiving an ownership stake in the Raiders from team owner Mark Davis. Another possible trap is the NFL’s Rooney Rule, but the Raiders or people close to them are floating rumors that the team has already spoken to minority candidates about the coaching position.

Gruden said there’s “a good chance” he’d take the job if Davis offers it to him. Expect the Raiders to formalize the move next week.

As for that other assumption — yes, this is a broken Carr. Not a Carr that’s ready for the junk heap, but a Carr with the “check engine” light on.

I’m not entirely sure what broke him. We may eventually learn that the injury he suffered to his back in Week 4, a broken transverse process, was more severe, or lingered longer, than Carr and the team let on. It’s also possible that the QB lost confidence in his receivers, who dropped passes for more air yards (389) than any other team, according to Pro Football Focus. Or lost confidence in his offensive line, which was good in 2017 but not as impenetrable as it was the year before. Or lost confidence in his play caller, Todd Downing, during Downing’s first season in the role.

In any case, something happened to Carr this season. He played tentatively. He looked out of sync. He often got rid of the ball more quickly than he needed to. Another tidbit from PFF: Carr was pressured on 26.8 percent of his dropbacks in 2017 — second lowest of any NFL quarterback — but when he was pressured, his passer rating of 40.6 ranked 37th of 40 qualifying passers. This wasn’t older brother David Carr developing a nervous tic after taking a beating in the pocket. This was a guy who feared the rush even when it wasn’t coming very hard.

So … can Jon Gruden fix Derek Carr?

The knee-jerk reaction is yes. Of course. Gruden is the Wikipedia of the quarterback position.

This idea is largely reinforced by Gruden’s popular “QB Camp” series that ESPN has aired every April since 2010. Each year, he sits down with the major quarterback prospects of that year’s draft and grills them on coverages, pre- and post-snap reads, mechanics, attitude and everything else that goes into the position.

The show is highly entertaining. Gruden’s charisma pops off the screen, and he seems to establish immediate rapport with all of his subjects.

Reminder: This is a TV show. It’s not a quarterbacks room at team headquarters with the Kansas City Chiefs headed to town.

A more apt discussion is whether Gruden has fixed other NFL quarterbacks during his 14 years as an NFL offensive coordinator and head coach. (He never held the title of quarterbacks coach.) And the record is mixed.

During his three years as coordinator in Philadelphia (1995-97), the stint that got Al Davis’ attention, Gruden’s quarterbacks were mostly mediocre. They included Rodney Peete, Randall Cunningham, Ty Detmer and Bobby Hoying. Hoying had the best year of his career in 1997, but none of the others got much of a Gruden bump. In fact, Cunningham had one of his worst seasons in 1995, and didn’t reinvent himself until he moved on to the Vikings.

Gruden’s QB record in Oakland, where he was head coach from 1998 to 2001, is recalled much more favorably. After all, Rich Gannon blossomed into an NFL most valuable player under Gruden’s guidance.

But it would be foolish to argue that Gruden “made” Gannon. Really, they made one another. Gannon was a fiery and brilliant field general who just needed a team to commit to him. Gruden had the vision to give him that opportunity, and he and Bill Callahan designed an offense that allowed Gannon to prosper. Gruden certainly gets props for that. But that’s a far cry from fixing a broken quarterback.

It’s most instructive to look at Gruden’s seven years as head coach in Tampa Bay. He won the Super Bowl with Brad Johnson in 2002, cementing his reputation as a genius. And Johnson, a Gannon-style overachiever, was very efficient that year. But he was roughly that good with Washington three years earlier, and nearly as good with Minnesota three years later. Johnson spent another couple seasons with Gruden, and didn’t maintain the ’02 level of production.

Gruden’s other starting QBs in Tampa were Jeff Garcia (24 games), Brian Griese (21), Chris Simms (15), Bruce Gradkowski (11), Luke McCown (three), Rob Johnson (two), Tim Rattay (two) and Shaun King (one). Most did OK, but pretty much in line with their career numbers.

The only guy who truly had a breakout year for Gruden’s Buccaneers was Simms, who was far better in 2005 — 2,035 yards, 10 touchdowns, 81.4 rating — than in any other season of his career. But Simms left Tampa on terrible terms with the coach, accusing Gruden of downplaying an injury so that the Bucs could cut Simms without paying him.

As I said, a mixed record.

It always felt to me like Gruden had too much faith in his own ability to groom quarterbacks. That faith was justified when he used a pretty-good QB to win a Super Bowl. But as the seasons played out in Tampa and the Buccaneers failed to rekindle that fire with the likes of Griese and Gradkowski, it just seemed like stubbornness.

According to pro-football-reference.com, if you measure Gruden’s entire 14-year tenure as an NFL offensive coordinator and head coach, his offenses ranked in the 50th percentile in points scored, the 55th percentile in total yards, the 52nd in rushing yards per attempt, the 57th in passing yards, the 56th in passing touchdowns and the 54th in turnovers lost. All in all, slightly better than average.

Gruden brings obvious assets to the Raiders. Most players love his infectious enthusiasm and energy, and his reputation and deep NFL ties should allow him to attract more than his share of coveted assistant coaches and free agents.

But can Gruden fix Derek Carr? That’s a matter of faith, because there isn’t a lot in his track record to prove it.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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