- Jim Trotter, NFL
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NAPA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen couldn't have been more definitive when asked about his starting quarterback. He looked a visitor in the eyes and without hesitation declared: "It's Matt."
To reinforce his point, he bugged his eyes and stared the visitor in the eyes even more intensely before repeating himself: "It's Matt. Matt's our quarterback."
"I'm really excited about Derek Carr," Allen said. "I think he's got a chance to be a top-level quarterback in this league. But he's young, and he's a rookie. That's a tough proposition in this league. I know we've seen some guys that have been able to have some success as rookie quarterbacks, but I've also seen some opportunities where guys have had a chance to sit in behind a veteran quarterback and watch and learn and go on to have successful careers."
There's no doubt Carr has won over the staff more quickly than your typical first-year signal-caller might. He has size and arm strength and has displayed accuracy and a command of the offense as well as the huddle.
But young quarterbacks are prone to lows as well as highs. For instance, on Friday Carr made several beautiful throws and showed an ability to correctly go through his read progressions. But he also forced a pass down the seam that was picked off and he lost the football on a botched exchange from center. Those types of mistakes often are the difference between winning and losing -- and Allen and the Raiders can't afford a third straight 4-12 season.
So rather than live with Carr's potential growing pains, the plan is to ride with Schaub, an 11-year veteran who is coming off his worst season as a starter. In 10 games last season with Houston, he threw 14 interceptions -- including a pick-six in four consecutive games -- and only 10 touchdown passes. His passer rating of 73.0 was a career low as a Texan.
"It wasn't all on Matt; there were other factors involved with it," Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "But the bottom line is he's the guy pulling the trigger and making the decision to let the ball go in that situation, so he took the heat. We looked at it as an anomaly. It would've been different if there had been a drop-off year by year, but I don't know if you can look back and find another quarterback who fell off as dramatically as he did in the history of the game. So we view it as just one year."
The Raiders' blueprint for success includes running the football, playing solid defense and winning at situational football. It's a formula that places an even greater premium on ball security, which often is an issue with young quarterbacks. The staff has no plans to rush Carr onto the field, even as Olson says "the game has not been too big for him" to this point.
There figures to be a vocal groundswell of public support for the former Fresno State star if he plays well in the preseason, similar to what happened last year when fans clamored for the younger and more athletic Terrelle Pryor over veteran newcomer Matt Flynn, the designated starter. But unlike in that situation, don't look for the youngster to unseat the veteran in Week 1.
Look in Allen's eyes. Listen to the tone of his voice. Both leave no doubt: Matt's his quarterback.
5dEric D. Williams
5dEric D. Williams