JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Derek Carr found a friend in Blake Bortles during the taxing, often invasive pre-NFL draft process. The pair were considered among 2014’s top college quarterbacks, with stats, size, smarts and arm strength to warrant a top selection.
The pair ended up visiting several of the same quarterback-needy teams leading up to the draft and national events like the NFL scouting combine.
They actually crossed paths in Jacksonville as both players were in to visit a Jaguars team in desperate need of a quarterback.
“We were in Jacksonville together, and then we were somewhere else together, I believe,” Bortles said. “I remember Jacksonville vividly because we went and got dinner together the night before.”
They exchanged numbers and texted each other during that spring. It started a friendship that continued on.
“We talk every now and then – I still have his number, still text him here and there,” Bortles said. “We’ll talk in the offseason and throughout the year, but he’s an unbelievable guy. He’s a guy that I definitely check and see how he’s doing throughout the year after every game and rooting for, and look forward to seeing him Sunday.”
Their paths cross again Sunday in Jacksonville, when the Raiders and Jaguars meet in a Week 7 clash important to both clubs. The 4-2 Raiders hope to surge ahead and erase a terrible home loss to Kansas City. The Jaguars want to expand on a two-game win streak.
These upstart clubs are dependent on big offense and steady play from quarterbacks selected two-plus years ago.
Jacksonville picked third, and had first crack at a 2014 quarterback class headlined by Teddy Bridgewater, Carr, Bortles and Johnny Manziel.
They took Bortles, with all his size, arm strength and Ben Roethlisberger comparisons. Cleveland made a colossal mistake and took Manziel, who flamed out after two hard-partying seasons with the Browns. Minnesota traded back into the first round and nabbed Bridgewater, a competent signal caller who suffered a major knee injury that stole his 2016 season at least.
The Raiders were patient, held on to their pick and still got their guy. They selected Carr No. 36 overall, paired him with No. 5 pick Khalil Mack and put the franchise on the right track.
Through two-plus seasons, Carr’s been the best of the bunch, and Bortles is solidly in second place. Carr’s been more productive, earned more wins and taken better care of the football. Both guys can be gunslingers, but Carr is a bit more measured.
Bortles exemplifies the term. He’s willing to take risks for great reward, a style the Raiders defense wants to exploit in this crucial meeting.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson knows Carr and Bortles extremely well. He was the Raiders offensive coordinator during Carr’s rookie year, and the quarterback credits Olson for getting his NFL career off on the right foot.
He has worked with Bortles over the last two years and has played a major part in his development.
Olson sees similarities between these two passing talents and their development from rookie starters into their third professional seasons.
“Both guys are great competitors,” Olson told reporters in Jacksonville. “They are individuals who were thrown into the league and had to play early as rookies. Both guys have gone through changes in coordinators, but they are tremendous competitors and the both prepare extremely well. They’re both intelligent guys.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Charter buses and cargo trucks lined the back parking lot at the Raiders facility on Friday, ready to load up for a long time gone.
They were prepped to transport players, personnel and a week’s worth of supplies to an airplane set to cross the country.
The Raiders weren’t headed for a quick trip to play Jacksonville on Sunday. They’re staying in central Florida between Sunday’s game against the host Jaguars and a game at Tampa Bay to avoid travelling coast to coast in consecutive weeks.
They’ll be tucked away at a swanky Sarasota, Fla., resort devising a way to beat the Buccaneers, while practicing 20 miles north at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
Head coach Jack Del Rio doesn’t want his team thinking about the 10-day trip as a whole quite yet. He wants it compartmentalized, with complete focus on beating the Jaguars above all else.
“The biggest thing for us is to kind of take it as it comes,” Del Rio said. “And, the first order of business is traveling well Friday, for our game Sunday. And then, what changes then is that rather than flying back, then we transition into instead of going back and forth, what we’re going to do down there.
“Right now, the focus is really just on Jacksonville, the talent they have, the things they like. We’re really dialing in our preparation that way. Then, once we get to Sunday and the game’s over, then we’ll transition into the following week.”
The Raiders players and football personnel – some business officials will head back home -- will take a short flight from Jacksonville to Sarasota on Sunday night to start the next game’s prep.
It keeps the Raiders on the road but takes away most of the travel, streamlining a process the Raiders have down pat. They’ve been excellent on the road this season, with three wins in as many trips.
The Raiders have done well in hostile environments because everything they do, from eating to sleeping to actual prep on the road is done with victory in mind. Players come in confident and typically leave with a win. They have a 7-4 road record under Del Rio, a mark they’d like to improve during this Florida two-step.
“We’ve been able to travel well and play well and we look forward to the next opportunity,” Del Rio said. “Regardless of where we’re playing, we expect to play well.”
Being away so long may have its advantages, creating an in-season summit for players and coaches. Proceedings will have a training camp feel, with guys together most of the week focused on football. That could provide growth in all aspects, especially with a defense that has not played well together.
“I think it’s going to be a really good thing,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Just to be out somewhere different with everybody. Obviously, some peoples’ families will be there and those kind of things which is a must. You have to have your family. My family will be there, we’ll be together. But when you get those times at the hotel to be around each other to eat every meal together, do those things, I think it’s nothing but good things. Whenever you can spend as much time around each other as possible, I think it’s really good.”
Some families will make the trip. The Raiders also have several players from the Florida and neighboring with friends and family coming in for these important games. During the week, however, the focus will be on football.
Playing consecutive games against teams from the Sunshine State is no fluke. The Raiders requested this sequence in order to alleviate some travel burden on a West Coast team forced to play at least two time zones away seven times this season.
It’s a relatively trendy concept a few teams have used over the years. The Baltimore Ravens stayed in the Bay Area last year and practiced at San Jose State between games against Denver and the Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons did so this season, staying out west between games against Denver and Seattle.
The Raiders could’ve done so twice – consecutive games at Tennessee and Baltimore provided another option – but didn’t want to put strain on young families.
They’ll try and keep things close to a typical game week, so the players feel comfortable in new elements. The football operations staff, lead by coordinator Tom Jones, is bringing the technology required for meetings and film study. The equipment staff, led by manager Bob Romanski, in particular must load up for a long haul and get ready for two games and four other days of practice.
It’s no easy task taking this show on the road, but the Raiders believe it’ll help in the middle of an arduous season and travel slate.
"There’s a lot of work behind the scenes,” Del Rio said. “…For us as players and coaches, it’s going to be very seamless. Basically football preparation as we know it, just doing it in a different environment.”