August 16, 2018 - 4:29 pm
Updated August 16, 2018 - 6:49 pm
NAPA, Calif. — The first opponent for Jon Gruden in his NFL coaching return never was expected to be the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 10. Rather, it was the league’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement, which limits the instructional time coaches and players can spend together.
Gruden was figured to bleed the CBA’s allotment for every possible minute.
Then came Thursday.
The Raiders coach rewarded players for their efforts at training camp by canceling the final practice. He made the announcement in the morning, not long before a 9:15 workout was scheduled to begin. Gruden’s satisfaction so far with this offseason includes the development of Derek Carr.
If there was a camp MVP, it very well may be him.
Gruden and his quarterback’s relationship was the subject of skepticism before they ever started rolling up their sleeves. Carr is regarded as a good ol’ Christian boy, the only curse word in his vocabulary perhaps the word “curse” itself. Gruden, intense and demanding, is painted with more rigid strokes.
They have laughed at this external concern. And indeed, they appear to be coexisting just fine.
Carr’s grasp of the offense in camp was evidence enough.
“I think he’s one of the best, in terms of processing information,” Gruden said on Wednesday. “I think he craves new things. He wants (more). ‘What do we have today? What are we doing today? What’s new? What do we got?’ He has a photographic memory. It comes so easy to him. He’s got the offense mastered more than I do, that’s for sure.”
There may be some broadcaster hyperbole toward the end of Gruden’s comment, but it’s not much of one. Carr has demonstrated command not only of Gruden’s playbook but its underlying concepts. In meetings, Gruden calls upon Carr to draw up a given play. Carr does with success. Gruden then smirks in satisfaction.
On the field, Carr speaks Gruden’s language, weaving in and out of blitz protections in reaction to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s front. His fluency exceeds the months since Gruden’s hiring in January and first team meeting in April.
This builds to Sept. 10 when Carr will operate against the Rams with full control at the line of scrimmage, serving as an extension of his head coach.
“A lot of hard work, for sure,” Carr said of what it took to reach this level. “A lot of hours spent trying to master it. You think like he thinks, you know? Which has been fun and interesting for me to learn. A big part of it was — to both of us — when we hit the field, we don’t want it to look like we’ve been together for six months. We want people to think, ‘Wow, these guys have been together for 10 years.’
“In order to do that, the time you have to put in is a lot. It is. It’s a lot. And both of us worked really hard on getting on the same page. … And the main thing is when we hit the field, that’s us. That’s what him and I are putting on the field, the product at the same time. Again, we didn’t want it to look like we’ve only been together for a short period of time. We wanted it to look like these guys have been around each other, it seems, like forever.”
Surely, that eased Gruden’s mind Thursday when making his announcement.
Forever made one day easy to spare.