Updated October 16, 2021 - 11:22 am
They have been down this road before, joined at the play-calling hip. In 2014, Greg Olson directed a rookie quarterback through the dark and sometimes menacing challenges of the NFL.
He was the teacher and Derek Carr the pupil.
How it came about that the two will again combine to lead the Raiders’ offense is hardly a typical narrative. But that’s what has occurred. Nobody saw it coming.
Olson will call plays beginning in Denver on Sunday, when the Raiders meet the Broncos in an AFC West battle of 3-2 teams.
It is this way because Jon Gruden resigned Monday as coach of the Raiders when his past emails of racial tropes and misogynistic and anti-gay language were uncovered by the New York Times.
“It’s obviously not an easy situation for anybody in the organization,” Olson said. “I think I’m just saddened by the pain it has caused so many people for so many different reasons. There are a lot of feelings, most of them sadness. But we have a job to do. The show goes on.
“Someone has got to step up. The band plays on.”
He’s that someone. Strike up the orchestra.
Olson now goes from the offensive coordinator with a backup voice for Gruden to the man in charge of a unit that is struggling to find consistency behind an ineffective line.
He used to offer suggestions to Gruden between plays. What he saw. What he believed was best to run in certain situations. Now he’ll be the one making final decisions.
Truth is, what was a Top 10 offense last season can’t block anyone, which makes things awful difficult on a quarterback and run game.
“I’ve heard (Olson’s) voice through the headset,” Carr said. “I know how he calls the game. I know how he thinks. Every conversation I had with Coach Gruden, I had with Oly this whole time. It’s not going to be anything crazy new, but there are (different) philosophies that some people have.”
What might change
Herein lies the biggest question: What might change in how Olson elects to attack a defense compared to Gruden?
Carr wouldn’t give away any secrets, joking that the Raiders might get all sorts of crazy and run the Wing-T and just plod the quarterback up the middle as much as possible.
“If Denver is listening,” Carr said, “we are probably just going to run the ball the whole time.”
There is a sense that Olson might have a more aggressive approach. The Raiders under Gruden threw the ball to establish the run. Now, they just might throw the ball to, well, throw the ball. A whole lot.
They rank fourth in the league in passing yards, averaging nearly 300. Not the same on the ground — ranking 29th at just 78.6 yard per game.
It’s also probable that Carr will own far more freedom to audible out of plays — that he will have a bigger say in how things go depending on down and distance.
“I don’t think they’ll be unpredictable,” said Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller. “What they do is what they do. How they call the game will definitely change because they have a new play-caller.
“They’re not going to come out here and just change their whole identity because Gruden is gone. They’re still going to do some of the things that they do well. We just don’t know when they’ll do it.”
‘Great coach, great motivator’
Who is Olson?
He is 58 years old and attended Central Washington University, where he later ran the football team’s offense and coached its quarterbacks.
Five times an offensive coordinator in the NFL, Olson returned to the Raiders in 2018 when Gruden hired him off Sean McVay’s staff with the Los Angeles Rams.
Olson has tutored — whether in college or the pros — names like Drew Brees, Jon Kitna, Jared Goff, Joey Harrington and Carr.
“Great coach, great motivator, great leader, great teacher in terms of just understanding the big picture,” McVay said of Olson in 2018. “He’s gotten exposed to a lot of different things.”
Know this: The offense over these next 12 games will hinge on what Olson and Carr believe is best. Rich Bisaccia is the interim coach and special teams coordinator who made it abundantly clear his belief in those now below him.
“I was with Coach Olson in Tampa,” Bisaccia said. “We won 10 games (in 2010) and he called every play, so I think we will be status quo that way. He has a great relationship with Derek. He’s been coaching quarterbacks here for four years.
“It’s not like we just got Greg Olson off some other team. He’s been a part of building this offense.”
Forge ahead together
As a rookie, Carr threw for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while attempting what is still his career high of 599 passes in a single season.
Seven years later, the same guy is again calling plays for him.
Olson admitted Thursday that while the communication part between himself and Carr won’t change much, the flow of how the offense operates might.
Translation: There is a great chance they open things up even more through the air. Heavy dropback. Play action. Somehow, some way, discovering the five best bodies up front to pass protect and make it all work.
They won’t game-plan much different than when Gruden was in charge. Any alterations to how things are done and called will assuredly come as the action plays out.
Olson didn’t want the additional responsibility to arrive this way. No coach on the Raiders did. But that’s not to say he isn’t excited about returning to a roll he knows as well as most in the NFL. Coordinators want to call plays.
He just sees it as more opportunity than time for celebration.
He was often the buffer between Carr and Gruden, the one who could soothe over any disagreements that often arise in the emotion of a game. That option is gone now. It’s just two guys trying to pick up the pieces.
“This team — everything is still out there for us,” Carr said. “We’re a good football team. We believe that we need to play better, but we still believe we can beat anybody. It’s just a weird time. That’s the only way I can say it.”
Said Olson: “I was part of the organization that drafted Derek. I have a ton of respect for him.”
So they forge ahead together.
They’ve been down this road before. Joined at the play-calling hip.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.