ALAMEDA, Calif. — Oakland offensive co-ordinator Greg Olson was quite clear about what the top priority will be for coach Jon Gruden's new staff with the Raiders.
Everything from the smallest details like how practice is conducted to bigger decisions about personnel and scheme will be made with the thought of how it will help Derek Carr develop into a top-flight NFL quarterback.
"We grow as Derek Carr grows," Olson said Wednesday. "We drafted this guy to be that franchise quarterback. We feel like he has the potential to be that guy that can be here and play for 10 more years. It's up to us to try and get that out of him. We'll do everything in our power to make sure that that happens, from practice to off-season programs, to what we're doing defensively in practice, all those things will be designed to help Derek's growth."
Carr showed steady improvement from his spotty play as a rookie in 2014 when Olson served his first stint as offensive co-ordinator in Oakland to a breakthrough 2016 season under Bill Musgrave that garnered him MVP support and helped him earn a $125 million, five-year contract extension.
That steady ascension hit a speed bump last season as Carr played under his third co-ordinator in four years after Todd Downing replaced the fired Musgrave. Carr matched his career high with 13 interceptions and recorded his worst totals in yards, touchdowns and passer rating since his rookie year.
"This guy has to get some continuity," Olson said. "The fact that they signed Jon Gruden to a 10-year contract, that's going to provide that stability that he needs and the continuity that he's going to need. He's going to be in a system now. He's going to be coached by a head coach that's going to be the play-caller. He's completely hands on with the quarterback position, and that's the first time Derek will have, first time he's going to have an offensive head coach that has a quarterback background and will be hands on with him on a day-to-day basis. I just see that growth curve skyrocketing because of that."
Olson and new defensive co-ordinator Paul Guenther spoke to the media for the first time since officially joining Gruden's staff last week. Both coaches have ties to Gruden, with Olson having worked as Gruden's offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay in 2008 and Guenther considering Gruden's younger brother, Jay, one of his closest friends after spending three years together as assistants in Cincinnati.
The two co-ordinators had talked to Jon Gruden over the years about the possibility of being on his staff if Gruden ever decided to return to coaching and leaped at the chance soon after Gruden returned to the Raiders.
"Cincinnati made a strong push to keep me there, but the opportunity to come out here with Jon and start this thing from the ground up was way too intriguing," Guenther said. "I just looked at it as an opportunity I couldn't refuse."
Guenther will be tasked with rebuilding a defence that struggled the past two seasons, leading to the midseason firing of co-ordinator Ken Norton Jr. The Raiders improved a bit in the final six games under John Pagano but didn't make nearly enough impactful plays despite the presence of 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack.
The Raiders lacked enough consistent pass rushers and the secondary got picked apart at times with rookies Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu missing almost the entire season with injuries.
Guenther called Conley his "favourite" cornerback in last year's draft and believes the pieces are in place starting with Mack to build a capable defence.
"Having a talent like that and ability of a guy like that, certainly you want to make it the centerpiece of the defence," he said. "We have to continue to develop our younger players to bring those guys up to speed and add people as we go through the draft and free agency. He's a guy that you can really build a foundation through and around. He's an exciting guy to be able to coach for sure."
NOTES: Guenther called NaVorro Bowman a "prototypical" middle linebacker and hopes he doesn't leave in free agency. ... Olson was noncommittal about the status of RB Marshawn Lynch, saying he would be doing him a "disservice" by evaluating his play in 2017 before taking a more thorough look at the film.
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