September 01, 2002

David Carr knew before the NFL scouts did, before the Mel Kiper
Jr. types, before the media know-it-alls. In leading unheralded
Fresno State to an 11-2 season and breaking school passing
records in bunches last fall, the choirboy quarterback knew he
was committing a gridiron sin: Before throwing a pass, Carr
wasn't always getting the ball up high enough to be in the
football-cocked-at-his-ear, trading-card pose. As the season
wore on--and the passing yards and touchdowns came easier than
ever before--he started his throwing motion lower and lower,
even slinging the ball sidearm on occasion. Sure, the unorthodox
mechanics saved him on some plays, but then Carr started
dropping down just to be different. He did it because he could.
It was, he thought, no big deal.

So in the months preceding the mid-April NFL draft, Carr was
stunned to hear the talk and read the stories about how his
delivery might keep him from being the No. 1 pick. Every time a
draftnik soiled Carr's reputation with remarks about unsound
mechanics--a Division I-A-best 4,308 passing yards and 42
touchdowns be damned--Carr would shake his head out of
confusion. Even after the expansion Houston Texans, who owned
the first pick, assured him before the NFL scouting combine in
early March that he (and not Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington,
as the pundits predicted) would be their guy, the perceived
passing flaw remained a hot story.

Carr tried to ignore all the fuss, until the day in early April
when he watched yet another talking head criticize his technique
and his brother Darren turned to him and asked, in mock outrage,
"Jeez, David, did you ever throw overhand?" Carr laughed, but
inside the polite, devout, happily married father of a
two-year-old son burned with an emotion he rarely feels: anger.
"It didn't really hurt my confidence, but I was offended," he
says. "No one had ever questioned my arm or my motion, and then
people were suddenly saying, 'Everything's all wrong.' I know
I'll always have my critics, but it started getting ridiculous."

What, then, do we make of all the clatter? What must be done to
correct the supposedly horrible defect? When asked these
questions at the start of camp this summer, the three men most
responsible for making Carr the first player drafted--Texans
general manager Charley Casserly, coach Dom Capers and offensive
coordinator Chris Palmer--sighed heavily in exasperation. "Look,
it's not like we're bringing David in here and teaching him how
to throw a football all over again," Capers said. "With his arm
strength and quick release, he reminds me of a young Brett Favre,
who never releases the ball the same way twice. Yes, we'll tweak
David's delivery a bit, but if it ain't really broke, why fix

Carr readily admits that he became lazy with his mechanics, but
it should be noted that Fresno State's passing attack included
many variations of the quick throw to the flat--screen passes to
receivers that in Casserly's words, "David, with his
extraordinary arm strength, could've made underhanded." Also,
during the season Bulldogs coaches installed the shotgun, a
formation that Carr had not played in before, so a lot of times
he improvised. "Honestly, I thought back to watching Dan Marino
on TV, with that quick sidearm thing he did [out of the
shotgun]," Carr says, miming Marino's quick three-quarters
release. "I figured that's how you were supposed to do it. I
didn't know any better."

Truth be told, Carr is in good hands. When Capers was coach of
the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995, his starting
quarterback was rookie Kerry Collins, the fifth pick in the
draft; in his 12 years as an NFL assistant, Palmer has worked
with Warren Moon, a young Drew Bledsoe and Mark Brunell. In
1999, Palmer's first year as coach of the expansion Cleveland
Browns, his starting quarterback was rookie Tim Couch, the No. 1

"The simple truth is, David's delivery was never a concern,"
Palmer says. "We thoroughly scouted David during the season, and
I always thought his flaws were very minor things that could be
easily corrected. David was so dominant last year, it was more of
a relaxation of his mechanics. His problems weren't in his
delivery, they were in his preparation. He was holding the ball
lower later in the season, and he needed to improve his footwork.
He was making big downfield throws flat-footed, just because he

Palmer was the first member of the Texans' brain trust to see
Carr in action, when Carr led the Bulldogs to a 24-22 upset of
Colorado in Fresno State's opener last season. By the time the
game was over, Palmer had seen enough. "He made some throws in
that game that only three or four guys in the NFL could make,"
Palmer recalls. "In that game his mechanics were prototypical.
Based on that performance I thought David was deserving of the
top pick, and he did nothing the rest of the way to change that

Palmer was further convinced after spending Fresno State's bye
week observing team workouts and offensive meetings and talking
to Carr's coaches. In practice he saw that the young quarterback
threw in classic over-the-top fashion the vast majority of the
time; he also found Carr coachable and eager to learn. Watching
videotape, Palmer graded each of Carr's 503 throws over the
previous two seasons. It was clear that Carr had a quick release
and was deadly accurate--two things that Palmer knew would only
improve with greater emphasis on proper ball position in Carr's
setup. Palmer was also delighted to see that Carr was as accurate
throwing to one side of the field as the other: He completed 133
of 209 passes (63.6%) to his left and 198 of 294 throws to his
right (67.3%). The tape further debunked the myth that Carr's
delivery was too low--of those 503 passes, only 18 were deflected
at the line.

Carr's one-hour postseason workout for the Texans in Fresno
clinched his spot at the top of the draft. After Palmer placed
five seven-foot ladders at the line of scrimmage, to emphasize
the importance of a sound delivery, Carr threw better than he had
all year. "I'd heard about the ladders," Carr says with a wry
grin. "Still, I think I showed them what they wanted to see."

That he will start his pro career in Texas seemingly was his
destiny. His parents, Rodger and Sheryl, were born near Dallas
and raised their three boys--David, 23; Darren, 19; and Derek,
11--as die-hard fans of America's Team. (David wears number 8 in
homage to former Cowboys great Troy Aikman.) When Carr heard in
October 1999 that Houston had been awarded the NFL's 32nd
franchise, he announced to family and friends that he wanted to
play there, though he was a redshirt sophomore who had yet to
start a game for Fresno State. He became an instant hero in his
new city last spring when at a press conference in
Houston--moments after signing a seven-year, $46.3 million
contract on live television--he said, "I want to whup up on the
Cowboys as much as anyone." Carr will get that opportunity on
Sept. 8, when Dallas visits Houston for the teams' season opener.

The Texans think he's ready. After his throwing motion was
tweaked--Capers and Palmer directed the rookie to hold the ball
roughly four inches higher than he had been, and adjusted his
footwork--Carr showed immediate improvement. With the ball propped
above his shoulder pad, Carr has a quicker delivery than before,
and his throws are even more accurate. It seems the changes were
as effective as they were subtle. "He's not afraid to challenge
the corners, to make the tough throws," says cornerback Aaron
Glenn, a Pro Bowler during his days with the New York Jets. "He's
been great."

Largely because of questions at tackle--top expansion-draft pick
Tony Boselli has had two shoulder operations and is out
indefinitely, and Ryan Young is out until late September with a
left groin injury--Houston will run a conservative offense and
hope that a veteran-laden defense can keep games close. Not that
Carr won't air it out; he's already developed good rapport with
veteran wideouts Corey Bradford and Jermaine Lewis and rookie
Jabar Gaffney from Florida. "I feel blessed to have these guys
around me," Carr says. "I've never felt like I'd have to do it

Perhaps that's because the Texans won't let him. Wary of the
demands on Carr as the franchise's telegenic cornerstone, Capers
persuaded Carr that it would be in his best interest to say no to
the dozens of companies hoping for his endorsement--at least this
season. Carr has also kept the protective cocoon of his family
around him. In addition to having wife Melody and toddler Austin
(whose new sibling is expected to arrive early next year) with
him, David moved Rodger, Sheryl and Derek from Bakersfield,
Calif., to a house near his own in the Houston suburb of Sugar
Land. (Darren will suit up this fall as a freshman defensive
tackle at the University of Houston.) "I think most dads have
their first son and think, Here's my quarterback," Rodger says, a
bit starry-eyed. "But you never really believe it. He'll always
just be our son."

Soon he may become a Houston icon. But for now Carr remains
happily under the Q-rating radar, as he discovered before
training camp when he walked into a car dealership hoping to
indulge his one newfound vice: expensive cars. After 15 minutes
passed and no salesperson had arrived to help the young kid in
the T-shirt, board shorts and flip-flops, Carr climbed into the
car he liked--a BMW M5--causing sales and security people to
scramble. "They didn't know who I was, which was nice," he says.
"It's amazing how fast you can get helped by touching a car."
(He liked the car so much that he later drove it off the lot.)

Carr is as content being one of the guys on the Texans. He says
the right things--about how the game's so much faster at the pro
level, that he has already learned the hard way that he can't
take the risks he did at Fresno State. "See, I know everything's
faster here, and open spaces close so quickly," he says, leaning
forward as he chews on one last thought. After a brief silence he
cracks a smile and says, "I can't make those throws now, but
someday I will, because I've always enjoyed making throws with a
little flair. I've always liked being different."

One day soon Carr will sling the ball sidearm again. Just to be
different. Just because he can.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BILL FRAKES COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER COLOR PHOTO: TAYLOR JONES COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES SIMPLE PLAN With Carr starting and big questions at tackle, the Texans will keep things conservative on offense. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO RISING SUPPORT Carr won over local fans when he said he wanted "to whup up on the Cowboys as much as anyone."

These four rookies, drafted after the first round, made lasting
impressions in camp and should be major contributors this year

Drafted in second round, 34th pick
Concerns about his character following an NCAA suspension last
year for an extra-benefits violation--not to mention a rep for
fumbling--dropped Foster out of the first round. A left knee
injury will sideline the former UCLA star for the first four
weeks, but when he returns Foster should dramatically improve a
rushing attack that ranked 29th in the NFL in 2001. "He'll be a
great one," says Panthers coach John Fox. Case in point: On his
first preseason carry, Foster broke loose for an electrifying
61-yard score.

Drafted in second round, 37th pick
Entering the bell lap of Emmitt Smith's race to the NFL career
rushing record, Dallas had concerns at center and right guard.
The uncertainty at center, however, lasted only one week of
training camp, by which time Gurode, a feisty rookie from
Colorado, had sufficiently dazzled coaches to become, at 326
pounds, the NFL's heaviest starter at his position. With a last
name that's frequently mispronounced (it's Jer-ROD), he'll likely
become known by what's surely the best rookie nickname: The

Drafted in second round, 65th pick
A 5'9", 190-pound flash out of Louisville who could be mistaken
for Pro Bowl wideout and teammate Troy Brown, Branch caught eight
passes for 129 yards in the first half of New England's preseason
opener against the Giants, prompting coach Bill Belichick to say
that he had to figure out a way to get the rookie on the field.
The Patriots thought they had fortified their receiving corps
with free agent Donald Hayes. After Branch's catch-everything
camp, that position is looking downright dangerous.

Drafted in third round, 80th pick
In the 259-pound Overstreet, a three-year starter at Tennessee
at defensive end, the Falcons saw a player they felt could make
the transition to weakside linebacker in their new 3-4 scheme.
They also figured he might occasionally spell defensive end
Patrick Kerney, the team's leader in sacks last year, who was
moving to the weak side too. Plans have changed. Because he had
such an exceptional camp, Overstreet was penciled in as a
starter at linebacker, and Kerney will stay put at right end on
what should be one of the league's most improved defenses.



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