When the Oakland Raiders drafted Derek Carr with the 36th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, they made him the quarterback of the future by default. It’s a matter of when, not if, Carr takes over as the starter in Oakland because a player drafted that early eventually gets his chance.
There are similar quarterback situations playing out in Jacksonville, Minnesota and Cleveland, except none of those teams have a veteran quarterback quite like Matt Schaub. Not only did the Raiders trade for Schaub, he has accomplished far more in his career than Chad Henne, Matt Cassel and Brian Hoyer.
The Raiders have so far refused to acknowledge that there’s even a competition at quarterback, but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. The reality of the situation is that Carr must outperform Schaub before the Raiders will even consider making him the starter.
Unlike last season, it’s going to take more than a good preseason for the Raiders to make a switch at the quarterback position. Schaub is a proven commodity trying to rebound from the worst year of his career, and only his lack of performance during the regular season is going to convince the coaching staff in Oakland to give their rookie a chance. That’s the only way the Raiders will know for sure their rookie is outperforming their starter.
There is likely nothing Carr can do to start Week 1, which is why Oakland’s quarterback competition has never really taken flight. The better Carr performs in practice and preseason games, the sooner the Raiders will consider making a switch if Schaub can’t get the job done.
Unlike last season, when there was a huge disparity in the performance of Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor both in preseason games and practice, there has been no such difference so far in 2014. Schaub and Carr have both performed about equally from an outsider’s perspective during practice and in the first preseason game.
Until Carr starts looking much better than Schaub on a consistent basis, the Raiders are going to stick with the experienced veteran. It makes a lot of sense, especially considering the Raiders have a few natural breaks in the schedule that would serve as ideal times to make a switch to their rookie if Schaub isn’t getting the job done.
The first such break is after their Week 4 trip to London and before their Week 6 home game against the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders can use their bye week to get Carr ready for his first start against what was a terrible defense last season.
This scenario is a bit of a nightmare because it means both that Schaub is playing poorly and the team is off to a rocky start after two trips to the east coast and a trip across the pond in three of its first four games. This scenario also requires that Carr demonstrate that he’s the better option than Schaub over the next seven weeks in practice and when he gets an opportunity in preseason games.
|2014 Schedule Breaks|
|Week||Opponent||Days Between Games||2013 D Rank (Pts)||2013 Wins|
|4||Dolphins (in London)||7||8||8|
The second break is a 10-day stretch after a Thursday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12. It’s possible it will take the Raiders longer than four weeks to evaluate Schaub after three long road trips.
The Raiders will have extra practice days that week because they don’t have to give the players extra days off because it isn’t a bye week. The downside is that they have to travel to St. Louis to play what many expect to be a very good defense.
With just over a month to go in the season by this point, it’s possible the Raiders would be out of the playoff race, and it would be then be prudent to get their rookie game experience regardless of Schaub’s performance. If the Raiders are out of it after just 12 weeks, chances are Schaub’s performance hasn’t been great.
Both Schaub and Carr have had their moments over the first two weeks of training camp, but there is no clear separation between their training camp performances. Pryor had a few great days sandwiched between lackluster performances, but his preseason performance put him over the top.
Schaub’s first preseason performance wasn’t an abject failure, but it wasn’t what everyone wanted to see from a quarterback trying to reboot his career. The good news for Schaub was that Carr’s performance wasn’t significantly better.
Asked a day after the first preseason game if Carr might get first-team reps, head coach Dennis Allen squashed that idea almost immediately via Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area.
“It’s not really part of the plan right now,” Allen said. “We’ll evaluate everything as we move along, but the plan is to work Matt Schaub as the starting quarterback. I think he’s done a good job of doing that.”
The Raiders have continually supported Schaub as the starter but always with the caveat that they would evaluate the position as time moves on. Oakland’s initial evaluation of Schaub in the preseason game was not as bad as 3-of-7 passing for 21 yards might otherwise indicate.
Allen cited three throws that were not completed by no fault of Schaub when discussing his performance on a conference call with the local media.
Two of the third-down throws, you know, he tries the back-shoulder throw down the middle to Mychal Rivera, and that’s a catch that he’s made consistently in training camp. The corner route on a third down was an outstanding throw in a tight window against Cover 2, and Mychal again wasn’t able to come up with that play. We had a miscommunication on the first third down of the game where he was trying to get the ball to Andre Holmes, and those are some of the things that show up in the first preseason game that we get a chance to look at it, we get a chance to correct, coach it up, and hopefully we’ll be able to improve on that.
With Carr not even seeing time with the starters, it’s impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison with Schaub. Carr’s first preseason performance wasn’t enough to change that, which makes sense considering that many of his passes could have been more accurate in his debut.
One thing the Raiders have been doing throughout training camp is rotating the top receivers. While Carr isn’t getting any reps with the first-team offensive line, he and Schaub have both received reps with all of the receivers from Rod Streater to guys like undrafted free agent Seth Roberts. When Carr finally gets his chance, he should already have built a nice rapport with his receivers.
Carr will eventually get his chance, but it’s Schaub’s show right now. If the Raiders are going have a successful season, it will stay that way. If Schaub falters, the Raiders will not hesitate to turn to Carr, who has already proven to be an advanced rookie.
Albert Breer of NFL Network reported in June (via an article by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com) that the Raiders’ brass was already convinced Carr won’t need a redshirt season. That doesn’t mean the Raiders wouldn’t be better off giving him one, but chances are he’s going to get a start before the end of the season.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and observations obtained first-hand.