NAPA — Pull Roger Goodell from the judge’s chambers. Alert the insiders at the networks. And tell Geno Smith that he has company in sucker-punchdom, because Derek Carr was slugged by a teammate before practice Wednesday. He even has photographic evidence, implicating Michael Crabtree as the attacker.
“There’s a good one of him punching me in the face,” says Carr, who wears a big smile as he tells the story.
The reason he’s smiling is that a real punch in the face never would happen. There’s a better chance of Oakland handing $1 billion to the Raiders for a new stadium, or every winery shutting down in Napa Valley, than of Carr ever saying or doing anything that might remotely anger a teammate — or, for that matter, another human being. He’s a man of deep faith who wears a Jesus-related tattoo on his right arm and is extolled by all in training camp, including rookie receiver Amari Cooper, who calls him “a really friendly guy, just a good person.” The Smith incident, in which the New York Jets quarterback was decked by a now-former teammate over an unpaid $600 debt, is the absolute antithesis of the goodwill and chemistry Carr has been building in his second season as Raiders QB. That’s why he and Crabtree, who looks like a new man and receiver after turbulent times and unhappy big-game endings with the 49ers, could play off the Smith drama by acting out a faux scene.
“He’s a great guy. I love just being around him,” Carr said. “We crack jokes and make fun of each other all the time, [like] me trying to dunk on him. We’re always joking around, just doing stuff like that. We like to have fun.”
The question remains open about Carr’s eventual settling place as an NFL quarterback. Blessed with a robust arm and finally given dangerous downfield weapons in Cooper and Crabtree, he has no excuse not to have a breakout year, even if the Black Hole also has been an abyss for passers. As the team’s 18th starter at the position since 2003 — which, by no coincidence, was the season after the Raiders’ last playoff appearance — Carr carries a significant burden as the franchise savior. It helps that he is well-liked and respected, no small feat for a 24-year-old playing the most scrutinized position in team sports. His growth as a leader is yet another reason the Raiders have become an “it” topic in the NFL preseason, part of an intense, fast-tempo camp that has new coach Jack Del Rio blasting music — hip-hop, classic rock, country, R&B — on the fields behind the team hotel.
“I just never even think that should happen. I never even thought that would happen, especially around here,” Carr said of the Smith episode. “We just try and build a great relationship with everyone so that those things don’t happen. Obviously, there’s gonna be tension on the football field sometimes, but we just feel that shouldn’t happen here.
“It’s unfortunate, because Geno, I know he works very hard at what he’s doing. I just feel for him. I pray for a speedy recovery for him so he can go out there and compete. It’s gonna be hard on him. We’re rooting for him.”
Of course, he is. When Derek Carr is done saving the Raiders, he can move on to rescuing the world from itself. “I just can’t imagine anybody feeling that way toward Derek,” said Del Rio, speaking of his guy and Smith. “It’s just a shocking thing to see from afar.
“I don’t think there’s a need for us to talk about something like that. That’s somebody else’s problem. It’s not the way we operate. … Our guys have been great. Our guys are learning how to practice against each other. They’re being competitive, but they’re taking care of each other. We want to challenge each other, but we want to be respectful of what we’re all here for.”
At the core of that mission is Carr, who inherited the job from injured would-be starter Matt Schaub and never looked back last season. He started all 16 games and endured an 0-10 start that could have demoralized him, but he showed enough in winning three of the final six games of the Dennis Allen era to merit Del Rio’s confidence. The good news: He was only the seventh NFL rookie to throw for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, with his splits of 21 scoring passes and 12 interceptions comparing favorably with Andrew Luck’s rookie numbers. The bad news: The Raiders were the league’s worst offense, with Carr finishing last in yards-per-completion. That should change with the big-play potential of Cooper, who will be on display in his Coliseum debut Friday night against the St. Louis Rams.
“He’s a really good leader, a really good servant. He’s really vocal,” Cooper said of his QB. “He’s not gonna get mad or not come back to me if, like, I drop the ball. He’s there to influence me, and I really like that about him.”
Everyone raves about Carr’s presence. “It’s just a totally different situation,” he said of Year Two. “There’s no, ‘Hey, you’re the guy of the future.’ There’s none of that. It’s, ‘You’re the guy now.’ It’s kind of nice knowing that, because now I can really be myself, whereas when it was Schaub’s team, there are certain things. You can’t step on his toes. You don’t want to get in the way. You want to let him do his thing.”
If he was nervous this time last year, all jitters have vanished. “To be completely honest, I’m just being myself,” Carr said. “You can ask my wife. I’m just trying to be myself all the time, whether it’s talking to y’all, her or my parents. Do I feel more responsibility? I don’t, because I put so much pressure on myself, I don’t ever feel it from the outside. Now, we’re just playing football.
“I’m just trying to be more efficient, each and every play. In college, I could say, ‘I’m going to just throw this one up on this play, because he has ‘man’ coverage, and if we don’t get it, we’ll go for it on fourth down.’ You can’t do that in the NFL. Here, each play has to be so precise in everything you do.”
There is a compelling perception race in the Bay Area between Carr and the fading 49er, Colin Kaepernick. Who will have the better quarterbacking career? Kaepernick spent his day grumbling about a hole-filled TMZ report that he and Aldon Smith had a disagreement over a woman, which supposedly led to Smith mangling Kaepernick’s Mercedes before the arrest that led to his 49ers release.
“Well, if I was a reporter, I would go about things [differently],” Kaepernick said. “I would realize that I have a deal with Jaguar. I’ve had it for a few years now, so I wouldn’t be driving a Mercedes. I would also realize that we didn’t have practice on Thursday, so no one was at the facility. So along those lines, I feel like anyone that believes that and goes about reporting it is, just doesn’t have the best integrity, in my mind. I mean, to try to prey on athletes’ livelihoods while one is going through a tough time is embarrassing to me. For people to report that and put that out there and jump on that bandwagon, just to get Internet clicks and get attention to their website, or reports, it really is embarrassing for people to do that.”