Quarterback Derek Carr is the face of the Las Vegas Raiders offense, while offensive coordinator Greg Olson, the mastermind behind the whole thing, is not quite as visible.
The 57-year Olson, who began coaching as a graduate assistant at Washington State in 1987, has spent time in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Olson, who was Carr’s OC in his rookie season of 2014 before going to the Jaguars and serving in the same position before being brought back by Coach Jon Gruden last season, sees a big season coming for his quarterback with the new weapons the Raiders have added.
“Obviously, Derek coming back for his third year in the system, knowing the terminology and him being able to gather some of the guys (for offseason workouts helped),” Olson told reporters at training camp the other day. “I know a number of quarterbacks throughout the year gathered their skill players and did some throwing. There was some of that that went on, as you guys know. I think that was the benefit of having a quarterback familiar with your system coming back.
“ … We want to see him create and I think if you said that about Derek’s career, can he be more creative? When a play breaks down, can you get out and create and be the play after the play call. Hey, this play broke down, now you’ve got to escape and get outside the pocket and create something for us or push forward and run. That’s been an emphasis. He sees it, he’s athletic enough that he can create with his legs, so we are just working on him to create more outside the pocket.”
The 6-3, 210-pound Carr certainly isn’t a burner, but he is mobile enough to get outside and even turn upfield when the pocket and/or the play breaks down, having rushed for 495 yards and five touchdowns during his Raiders career.
And he hears what Olson is saying.
“It’s a lot of things,” Carr said. “It’s one of those things that you just got to work on all the time. It’s one of those things that, I say before Coach Gruden got here, I barely did it. I’m going to sit in the pocket. I’m going to sit here. These reads are going to beat you and my arm is going to beat you.
“Then he came in and the first year was a struggle just trying to figure out how to move and run around in the pocket. Then last year happens and we’re running more touchdowns. We’re getting more first downs with my legs. We’re winning football games with me scrambling. The arrow is trending up, so it’s a good thing. But we want to still do more. My job is always to do more.”
Carr stepped into the starting lineup for the Raiders as a rookie in 2014 and has not really had a backup quarterback to push him or help him out with what he sees from the sidelines for the first six seasons of his career.
However, the Raiders changed that when they signed free-agent quarterback Marcus Mariota, who led the Tennessee Titans three straight winning seasons before being benched as the team struggled last season, as a free agent earlier this year.
“I think if you were to talk to any player, I think competition brings out the best in any player in any sport,” said Olson, who has made it clear that there is no real competition, that Carr is the starter. “We try to do that across the board. Obviously, the quarterback position, bringing in Marcus, but some other positions as well. I think in going into our third year here with Jon (Gruden), on our side of the ball, I would say, it’s the best competition that we’ve had since we’ve been here again across the board at every position. Our depth is better. As long as we stay healthy, we have great depth right now, which should provide some great competition during training camp.”
Carr broke Kenny Stabler’s Raiders career passing record last season when he threw for 4,054 yards, a 70.37 percentage, 21 touchdowns, and only six interceptions, helping the Raiders to a 7-5 record that had them thinking about the playoffs.
However, they lost their last four games to finish on the outside looking in when it came to the playoffs, and problems in the red zone were a big part of it.
“Inside the 10-yard line, our goal-to-goal offense was horrific,” Olson admitted. “We turned the ball over four times, we settled for field goals too often. That’ll be an area of emphasis as we go through training camp, will be our goal-to-goal offense and our goal-line offense on fourth down. A couple of fourth-down plays that were fourth-and-goal, we didn’t get it. We’re just focusing on that area inside the 10-yard line.”
Added Carr: “I think we did a great job of moving the ball. I don’t think anyone can deny that. But all that means nothing if we can’t finish the drive.”
It will be up to Carr to drive the Raiders across the finish line.