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.