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Raiders’ Derek Carr says he’s paid dues and is ready to thrive

It was just a single practice rep among the countless others the Raiders took during a recent training camp workout. But in the 25 or so seconds it took to start and complete, a window opened on Derek Carr’s intention to be a major part of the fabric of the Las Vegas Raiders for a good long time.

The first-team offense was working against the starting defense during an 11-on-11 period. Carr, armed with the play call supplied by head coach Jon Gruden, immediately recognized the particular look of the defense as he approached the line of scrimmage.

In an earlier point of his career when he didn’t have complete command of the offense, Carr might have run the play that was called only to later regret not checking into a better one. But being in Year Three of the same offensive system — a luxury he’s never enjoyed — meant Carr instantly knew to hand signal to an audible to get the offense into a better look.

“And boom, the play, it goes for an eight-yard gain,” Carr said.

Gruden, smiling as he watched from the sideline, had a message for Carr.

“He told me, ‘I was thinking the same exact thing,” Carr said.

That moment speaks volumes. It speaks to the comfort Carr already feels for his new home in Southern Nevada, the continuity he’s established with Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and the confidence he has in a rebuilt offensive roster which has the potential to be the best in Carr’s seven-year career.

And as Carr stands at the Raiders’ sparkling new practice facility in Henderson and peers east toward the Las Vegas Strip and Allegiant Stadium, it’s impossible for him not to envision himself a part of the landscape here for years to come.

“That is our plan for sure,” Carr said, “despite whatever goes on or whatever’s said.”

Carr’s recollection of the sequence isn’t to celebrate one small victory during a training camp practice. Rather, it is an example of the understanding he has for an offense he’s beginning to know like the back of his hand. It’s noticeable to everyone.

“I’m really impressed with Derek Carr,” Gruden said. “He’s throwing the ball great. He has great command.”

Through all the ups and downs of his seven-year career with the Raiders — a virtual roller-coaster ride on which four head coaches have jumped on and off, multiple offensive schemes have been tried and a parade of teammates have circulated in and out of the building — the absence of the essential element of continuity has frustratingly eluded Carr.

The result is that while Carr has personally enjoyed statistical success— he’s thrown for 22,793 yards, completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown more than twice as many touchdowns (143) as interceptions (62) — the team has struggled, posting a 39-55 record with him as quarterback, a reflection of the inconsistency around him.

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) and safety Erik Harris (25) greet teammates defens ...
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) and safety Erik Harris (25) greet teammates defensive end Kendal Vickers (78) and defensive tackle Maliek Collins (97) as the come through the tunnel during a team practice at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @HeidiFang

Until now, that is. For the first time, Carr isn’t just learning an offensive system, he is mastering one. And for the first time, the critical component of stability is finally in place, from the top of the organization on down.

“You think about a guy like (Tom) Brady who has played in the same system for 20 years. You think of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. All of these guys played in the same system for so long,” Carr said. “And I’m only in my third year in this one. But I’m at a different level of understanding and thinking. It’s like, “oh my gosh, imagine if I had the last six years to do this.’”

As the Raiders transition from Oakland to Las Vegas, they do so with their head coach and quarterback growing more and more into an extension of one another.

Carr said Gruden has taught him to see defensive looks at the line of scrimmage and audible to the correct call almost like “a robot … where it’s second nature.” They have had success doing that the last couple of years, Carr said, “but this year we’ve been able to take it to a such a whole different level.”

That, coupled with the rebuilt roster Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock created to surround Carr with a formidable offensive line, weapons all over the field and a faster, more athletic defense, has put the Raiders in position to hit the ground running in their new home.

“(If) you’ve been to practice, you’ve seen what it’s looking like, drastically how much better things look,” Carr said. “We’re excited to go put that thing on tape and get the city excited and start winning some games and creating a buzz. Because, what an amazing way to come into a city than to come here and win.”

Carr, the face of it all as the first starting quarterback in Las Vegas Raiders history, is humbled by that distinction, but even more excited about debuting this version of the Raiders to their new hometown.

Already in practice, the speed of rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs and the length and physicality of fellow rookie wideout Bryan Edwards is evident. They join a potentially dazzling carryover cast that includes tight end Darren Waller, running back Josh Jacobs and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow.

Carr has tapped into all of his new weapons, with the long-missing element of the long ball already coming together with Ruggs.

“It’s insane, because for me it’s an exciting opportunity to be the face of the Las Vegas Raiders and, no pun intended, to light it up and have this city buzzing and on fire and excited,” Carr said. “I can’t wait.”

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) stretches during an NFL football training camp pra ...
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) stretches during an NFL football training camp practice Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher, Pool)

It’s a whole new world for Carr, and not only because he’s uprooted his family from the Bay Area and laid new roots in Las Vegas.

For the first time in his career, stability, continuity and the potential for a wide-open window of success is possible. All of that has escaped his grasp over the years. But as he takes a moment to glance back, he says he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’ve been blessed and excited to be a part of all that, because I could have easily gone to a team that was already established and, who knows what that future would have been,” Carr said. “But I’d rather do it the hard way. I’d rather have this.

“Anyone that knows me, actually knows me — people that are close to me, my friends and family — they know that, and I tell them all the time, this ain’t for everybody but it is for me. These seven years, this ain’t for everybody but this was definitely what I was made to do. So it’s been an amazing adventure for me.”

One that in some ways is just beginning.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.

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