HENDERSON, Nev.—In the conference room adjacent to Raiders coach Josh McDaniels’ office, just after noon on Saturday, class was in session. The pupil in this 17-minute tutorial: quarterback Derek Carr. Every day—on the practice field, or in the hallways of the Raiders’ gleaming practice facility in suburban Las Vegas, anywhere they see each other—McDaniels finds a few minutes to continue the download of his offense, the Super Bowl-winning New England offense, into Carr’s head.
On this day, McDaniels is drawing up protection schemes on a white grease board, and Carr sits taking notes on his tablet. McDaniels is teaching his QB to call and maneuver all of the protections at the line of scrimmage, the way Tom Brady did. That’s part of the lesson. Discipline on double-move pass-routes is the other part. McDaniels tells Carr he doesn’t like the lax technique he saw on one of the routes at practice, so he’s decided to enlist a new coach (sort of) to help get the technique across.
“We’ve just gotta be patient on the double-move,” McDaniels said. “If we’re not patient with the first part of the route, how can we expect the second part of the route to work? So we’re gonna show that film today. The Steph Curry film.”
“Perfect,” Carr said.
“The way Curry has the patience and the discipline on his pump-fakes before taking those threes … that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about,” McDaniels said. “In a double-move, if you don’t run the first route well first, the defender never jumps the play, right? Today we didn’t even run the first route, so the defender never budged—he knew the [receiver] was going up the field. Curry’s pump-fakes are real. They make the defenders go zooming by.”
“Flying out of bounds,” said Carr, who’d seen the tape of Curry pump-faking, waiting, then burying threes. “It’s hilarious.”
This whole session feels more like two peers talking than coach dictating to player. This is not what I recall from McDaniels’ Denver days in his first head-coaching go-round. Players found him too much of a bossman when challenged, and in today’s football, when relationships are being formed, that’s not going to work.
“Oh, I’ve learned a lot,” McDaniels said around 6:45 that evening in his office.
“Give me an example,” I said.
“I’m not Bill [Belichick], and there’s no shame in saying that. Bill’s the greatest football coach of all time, and he’s got his own distinctive way of doing things. So now, my thought process is less, ‘What would we have done in New England?’ It’s more, ‘What would I do?’ I have faith in myself as a coach. The vibe around here is one I should create. It’s not one I should mimic.”
“This is really my favorite part of the game,” Carr volunteers in the middle of the session. “This is so much fun for me.”
I’m here as an observer, but during one pause, I had to ask Carr: “Were you a guy who watched the Patriots over the years and wonder how they did it?”
Said Carr: “I was always very intrigued with Josh and with coach Belichick. You know, obviously I’m a Raider but I really loved them. I like to watch Tom. I saw completions everywhere. And then you don’t know how they teach it. You don’t know schematically. I don’t know the words of it, but I would watch. Just watch Tom’s eyes and he’d take you to the reads.
“We’re definitely not there yet. But I think we’re playing with smart football players. It’s easier for me to go to Hunter and be like, Hey, versus coverage now, do it like this. I was always enamored with the New England system. Now I’m learning the details of it and I love it even more.”
The meeting encapsulated exactly what is so fascinating about the guts of this sport. Yeah, the Steph Curry thing was cool, but there was one specific coaching point that I can describe only so far that’s cooler. You’ll understand the importance of it as I explain it.
One of the coaching points McDaniels needed to go over with Carr was what he wanted the right tackle to do on a pass route the Raiders will use this year. McDaniels let Carr name the wrinkle on the specific block, the word he’d use in the huddle meaning what one of the 11 people in the huddle should do on the snap of the ball.
The whole thing took two minutes and 11 seconds for McDaniels and Carr to iron out. But think of it: If the tackle performs his block correctly, it could mean a 30-yard gain. Maybe a touchdown. If the tackle fails to execute the block correctly, it could be a gain of one.
Think of the minute coaching points that add up to a complete offense. Think of McDaniels spending two minutes on July 23 instructing Carr on one point for one player on a play that might be called eight times all season.
This is not entertaining, this is not compelling, it won’t be a headline in the press or a highlight on SportsCenter.
“But,” McDaniels said when I asked about it, “it is real. It is football. It is important.”
In all, these 17 minutes total one piece of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Without the meeting, you don’t solve the puzzle.
“With Derek, this meeting will go to the field tomorrow,” McDaniels said. “You’re not wondering if it comes up in the second quarter, ‘Are we gonna do it? Should I close my eyes or not?’ Because you trust that he’s gonna be able to get it right.”
Now for the end game, for the fun. For coach Steph Curry.
In the Saturday afternoon post-practice tape breakdown, McDaniels showed the offending lax double-move route. He didn’t slap down the offender, just asked the offense to watch the play, and then to watch a basketball video: about 20 of the Steph Curry pump-fake/pause/defender-flies-by/calmly-hits-the-three plays. Shot after shot. “Ooooooh,” echoed in the room a few times on nice Curry threes. When it was over, one player said, “Can we watch a few more?”
Leaving Las Vegas (no pun intended, Sheryl Crow), I thought how much work the Raiders, and every team, have to do to be ready for the season. This is going to be an interesting team to watch.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column here