Right now, being Derek Carr is some kind of wonderful.
Without ever appearing in an NFL regular-season game, he’s the Raiders' savior. The second-round draft pick is the present and the future all rolled into one, beloved by fans, coaches and teammates. After winning the starting job for the Raiders’ season opener Sunday against the Jets in New Jersey, Carr is the antidote to all the bad QBs of the past few seasons. He’s the anti-Matt Schaub and the anti-Matt Flynn.
Even starting wide receiver James Jones is comparing him to his former Green Bay quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
“He’s really calm, really cool in the pocket,” Jones told reporters earlier this week. “He acts like he’s been there before. I’ve been calling him mini A-Rod since he got here.”
Another veteran, center Stefen Wisniewski, told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that Carr isn’t a typical rookie, because he’s been tutored by older brother David, a former NFL QB, and is football smart to an advanced degree.
“He understands defenses at a very advanced level more than most rookies would,” Wisniewski said. “I think Derek gets way more prepared than most rookies would be.”
But despite all the optimism and the compliments this week, Derek Carr will now have to produce Sunday in a real game. Playing well in exhibitions is one thing, when defensive starters hardly play and schemes are vanilla. Playing at the Meadowlands Sunday against defensive-minded Jets coach Rex Ryan is something else.
When Carr came out of Fresno State, one of the raps against him was that he looked uncomfortable in the pocket against pressure; that he would start throwing off his back foot and lose his rhythm in the face of a heavy rush. Certainly, the Jets will test that.
Carr, too, knows that Sunday is a whole new chapter. He said this week that offensive coordinator Greg Olson told him Sunday is just the beginning. What he did in training camp and exhibitions doesn’t mean a thing.
“As Coach Olie says, ‘Don’t let this moment be your best moment as an NFL moment,’ ” he told the media. “Just being told you’re a starting quarterback and then everything else is downhill after that. We want to make more great moments, but it was definitely a great thing. It definitely was.”
Carr will be the only rookie quarterback starting this week in Game 1.
He knows he’s going to have to prove himself under fire.
“He’s got a great blitz package,” Carr said of Ryan and the Jets defense. “He has obviously a lot of different looks that he’ll show. Me being a rookie, he’ll probably want to show them all.”
How he does will go a long way toward determining how this season will turn out for Carr and the Raiders as a whole.