Downing: Carr will have increased influence on Raiders game plan

Downing: Carr will have increased influence on Raiders game plan

Derek Carr and Todd Downing are tight. A strong friendship was forged between the Raiders’ franchise quarterback and his position coach these past two seasons, one that should help the Raiders now that Downing will call plays.

The Raiders new offensive coordinator will use his young signal caller as a resource formulating a game plan. Carr has a bright offensive mind – he called his own plays in high school and in college at times – and Downing plans to use it to put his quarterback in positions to succeed.

Carr’s influence in preparation will expand over previous seasons under coordinator Bill Musgrave.

“Where I see him needing a little bit more command is just being able to share his thoughts of game plans,” Downing said Wednesday in a conference call. “Being a student of the game, as he already is, but vocalize what he likes and doesn’t like. I think my relationship with him is something that’s going to give him the opportunity to voice his opinions. I look forward to him really taking charge of expressing his thoughts on the offense.”

Carr has always had freedom to adjust at the line of scrimmage, but that could increase with Downing in charge. Derek Carr’s brother Davis Carr told 95.7 The Game as much a few weeks ago, a topic Downing addressed on Wednesday.

“There’s been a lot made about his command at the line of scrimmage,” Downing said. “There’s certainly going to be opportunities for Derek to do that. That’s not something I feel we’ll even have to get into until we’re much further into this offseason and into training camp.”

Downing had opportunities to interview with other teams this offseason, but head coach Jack Del Rio wanted to pair Downing and Carr together. The young duo have similar personalities and a strong working relationship based on a love of the game.

“My relationship with Derek starts there,” Downing said in Wednesday interview on 95.7-FM. “We both love coming to work each day and respect the heck out of each other. When you have that kind of relationship with any coach, you’re taking a step in the right direction. Derek’s the leader of our franchise. In my opinion, he’s the best young quarterback in football. We’re fortunate to have him. Why wouldn’t I be in a good mood every time I am around him?”

Carr made great progress working with Downing the past two years, and was an MVP candidate in 2016. Downing sees continued room for growth and refinement as next season approaches.

“I think Derek made big strides in 2016, just in terms of his command of the offense, being the field general, being able to get through progressions more efficiently,” Downing said. “His footwork took big strides. I certainly want him to remain focused on all of those attributes. You don’t want to feel like you’ve arrived in a certain area of your game and then have it go backwards when the next season starts. Certainly, I want him focused on all of those.”

Downing will make subtle changes to Raiders offense, looking for greater efficiency

Downing will make subtle changes to Raiders offense, looking for greater efficiency

New Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing  has been given the keys to a Corvette, not a clunker.

He understands that fact. That’s why he won’t start from scratch in his first season running the show.

He doesn't see a reason to change much from a Raiders attack that scored 26 points per game last season and was productive on the ground and through the air.

“I believe in efficiency. And if we’re efficient in a concept, I am not going to go changing it just for change’s sake," Downing said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call. "If we’re inefficient or we failed to live up to expectations in a certain concept, then I am going to figure out a way to tinker with it and make it work. If I can’t make it work, we simply won’t do it anymore.”

Downing is currently evaluating what worked in 2016, and what didn’t. He’ll search for ways to improve a talented unit without losing the continuity key to offensive progress with a personnel group expected to remain largely the same heading into the 2017 season.

Franchise quarterback Derek Carr and a hulking offensive line led last year’s efforts and will do so again next season. Carr will continue having freedom at the line of scrimmage and will have input in the game plan. Downing says there will be differences from last year’s offense, but they won’t be major.

“It will be very subtle,” Downing said. “We’re going to keep the same system terminology. There’s no reason to change any of that stuff. All we’re doing right now is finding the ways that we can all individually do our jobs better, prepare our positions better and how we can just quarter turn a couple things to make the offense as efficient as possible.”

Efficiency doesn’t always mean high yards per play. At times it’s about getting first downs and vital yards, areas where head coach Jack Del Rio was critical of his offense. He wanted to play “big boy ball” at times, using old school tactics in the run game to pick up important yards.

The running game was productive as a whole with 120 yards per game, but it could be consistently better and Downing said it might need some tweaks.

Del Rio thought his offensive staff needed some tweaks as well. That's why he let Bill Musgrave leave on an expired contract. He wanted to keep Downing in silver and black, especially as his young offensive mind drew interest from other clubs. Downing had a year left on his contract, which included a clause allowing him to interview for offensive coordinator jobs outside the organization. 

The Raiders didn't want Downing to leave, especially considering his strong relationship with Carr. Del Rio made a switch shortly after a playoff loss at Houston that caught some off guard. 

"I wouldn’t characterize it as a surprise because I’m ready for anything that comes my way in this profession, but I was looking forward to the opportunity to run an offense somewhere in the NFL in 2017," Downing said. "I just feel really fortunate that Coach Del Rio has the trust in me, moving forward, to have that opportunity be here.”

 

Downing’s transition from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator has been smooth thus far. The offensive staff remains intact save Musgrave – he’s now Denver’s quarterbacks coach – which has helped Downing hit the offseason evaluation hard.

“It’s an incredible blessing to have my first opportunity come this way,” Downing said. “I know everyone on the staff very well. I know how to communicate with them and what makes them tick, which gives me a great head start in that vein. We’re going through offseason cut-ups from last year, and we’ll able to have real and honest conversations about that without them feeling like I’m taking shots at their position. They know I was in the trenches with them.”

Scott Linehan isn’t in the trenches with Downing anymore, but his teachings certainly are. Dallas’ offensive coordinator was Downing’s mentor during stints in Minnesota and Detroit, and helped shape his philosophy in regard to game planning and play calling.

“He’s really my mentor in this profession,” Downing said. “He raised me, taught me how to coach quarterbacks. He taught me how to put together a game plan, so I certainly will use a lot of what he taught me.

“I think what’s unique about the situation here is I’m not installing an offense from the ground up. There is already a system in place and there is a lot about this system, to use a phrase before, that’s not broke. So, there will be things that we do a little differently than I did in my time with Scott, but he certainly is probably the biggest shaping influence in terms of how I will play out as an offensive coordinator.”

Hard to imagine Raiders using franchise tag in 2017

Hard to imagine Raiders using franchise tag in 2017

There isn’t much downtime on the NFL calendar. The Super Bowl just exited the rearview and free agency is but a few weeks away, leaving some time to lock up players before they hit the open market.

Teams have a weapon designed to prevent a player from doing so. It’s called the franchise tag, a collectively bargained instrument that helps keep important players in the mix albeit at an expensive rate.

Teams can apply the franchise tag starting Wednesday. Don’t expect the Raiders to use it, or the less forceful transition tag.

The Raiders don’t have worthy candidates among their free agent class. Running back Latavius Murray is the biggest name in that group, but he seems destined to reach the open market.

Virtually securing Murray with the franchise tag – we’ll get into tag descriptions later – should cost $12.7 million for a running back, according to ESPN projections.

The Raiders won’t put themselves in a spot where they’d have to pay that freight. Even the rarely used transition tag would be too rich for their blood.

Most important members of last year’s 12-4 run remain under contract, with but a few key components set for unrestricted free agency. Murray, linebackers Perry Riley and Malcolm Smith and right tackle Menelik Watson are the starters headed for the open market.

Here’s a refresher on tags available to the Raiders and other NFL teams.

Exclusive franchise tag: A player who receives this tag is set to return to his club, and can’t receive an offer sheet from another team. He will get paid an average of the five largest salaries at his position in 2017 or 20 percent more than his 2016 salary, depending on which number is higher.

Non-exclusive franchise tag: This tag is more common than the last. Tagged players can receive offer sheets from other teams, but the courting team must give up two first-round picks for his rights. That’s typically too high a price too pay for a tagged player.

A non-exclusive franchise tag will pay a player the average of the top five salaries at his position from the 2016 season or a 20 percent raise over his 2016 salary, depending on which number is higher.

Transition tag: This tag only allows a team to match an offer sheet a player receives. There’s no compensation if that player is allowed to leave. The player will get paid the average of the top 10 salaries at his position.

Teams can apply tags and rescind them. Also, parties are free to work out a long-term deal instead of paying the 2017 salary required under the tag. Only one tag can be used per season. Tags can be applied until March 1. The Raiders last used a tag in 2012, when the applied the franchise tag to safety Tyvon Branch.