Training camp practice today seemed to take another step toward normalcy. First and foremost, there was offense versus defense, which gave the first glimpse of what many of the new acquisitions bring to the table.
One of the top free agents signings this offseason was former second-overall pick Marcus Mariota. He was brought in as competition and depth at the quarterback position.
For now the job belongs to incumbent Derek Carr, going into his seventh season as the team’s starting quarterback. During the first six seasons, he’s only been able to lift the team to a winning record once. That was 2016, when he became known for his clutch play and fourth quarter comeback wins. Then he broke his fibula and we’ve not seen much of that clutch play since.
One area the team would like to see more from Carr his making plays with his legs. As Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson discussed earlier this month.
“Want to see him create and I think if you said that about Derek’s career, can he be more creative? When a play breaks down, can you get out and create and be the play after the play call,” Olson said. “Hey, this play broke down now you’ve got to escape and get outside the pocket and create something for us or push forward and run. That’s been an emphasis. He sees it, he’s athletic enough that he can create with his legs, so we are just working on him to create more outside the pocket.”
Anyone who has watched Carr knows that in the rare occasions he does tuck it and run, he can move. He’s not a statuesque pocket passer who rumbles down the field. He’s pretty fleet of foot. But he’s not Marcus Mariota fast. As Jon Gruden is noticing.
“He’s interesting. He took off a couple times today and really fired me up,” Gruden said of Mariota after Friday’s practice. “He’s been hurt. Looked like the ankle has really turned the corner. He’s a dazzling playmaker with his feet and that’s the key to his game. I saw glimpses of that today and it was exciting. Started off slow in 7-on-7 but picked it up and had a really nice day.”
Carr knows what the team wants from him. And he’s certainly aware that those qualities are in abundance in the guy currently playing behind him on the depth chart.
Running the ball, either by design or when the play breaks down, is something Mariota is well accustomed to. He did it extensively at Oregon and over five seasons with the Titans, he has 1399 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
By comparison, Carr in six NFL seasons has 495 career rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Then of course, there’s those two run in which he let go of the ball while reaching for the pylon, causing a touchback.
It’s clear Mariota has an extreme leg up in the ability to make plays outside the pocket. Carr has the advantage of familiarity in this system working in his favor. Either he will let Mariota rub off on him and push him to create plays with his legs more, or the gap will begin closing between them.