QB Derek Carr provides reason for optimism following another disappointing season for Raiders



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ALAMEDA, California — The Oakland Raiders head into another long offseason with questions about who will coach the team and who will pick the players for next season.

One question that has been answered for now is who will start at quarterback. With Derek Carr set to build off a promising rookie season, the Raiders head into their 12th straight offseason following a playoff-free year with more optimism than usual.

They appear set at the most important position after more than a decade of revolving-door quarterbacks that played a big role in the team's recent struggles. Carr was the 18th quarterback to start for Oakland since the beginning of 2003, but became the first to go all 16 games since Rich Gannon did it in 2002 — when the Raiders made the Super Bowl.

"I learned that I could play in this league," Carr said. "You never know until you do it. I know I can play and I know I can play at a high level, and so now it's just about the consistency."

Carr had good and bad moments for the Raiders (3-13). He became the seventh rookie quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes in a season and looked comfortable in the pocket.

He also struggled at times against the blitz and was unable to get the ball downfield consistently, in part because of the lack of a game-breaking receiver.

But as a whole, the Raiders believe the playing time will only help Carr.

"The experience that you gain from the amount of snaps that he has taken right now are so valuable," interim coach Tony Sparano said. "It's not a guess anymore. He's seen it. He understands it. He did it."

Here are some other takeaways from the 2014 season:

COACHING QUANDARY: The Raiders fired Dennis Allen after four straight losses to open the season and showed some signs of improvement under Sparano. Oakland won three of its final six games, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough for Sparano to keep his job despite vocal support from the players. Even if Sparano stays, there could be changes on the staff, with the status of offensive coordinator Greg Olson and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver in doubt. Owner Mark Davis also needs to decide whether to keep general manager Reggie McKenzie after the team won just 11 games the past three seasons.

MIGHTY MACK: Carr wasn't the only rookie to make a big impact. First-round pick Khalil Mack stepped in and immediately became the team's best player. Mack was dominant against the run with 11 1/2 tackles at or behind the line — trailing only Houston's J.J. Watt. Mack also had the eighth-most quarterback pressures of any linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Despite having the oldest opening day roster, the Raiders depended heavily on their youth. According to Sparano, 27 first- or second-year players combined for 10,196 plays this season. Along with Carr and Mack, the Raiders are hoping running back Latavius Murray, tight end Mychal Rivera, guard Gabe Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis, linebacker Sio Moore and cornerbacks DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill can be part of the core going forward.

"We're very optimistic as far as that goes, knowing that you have a great foundation here, and we want to keep building on it," Mack said.

ROAD WEARY: While the Raiders were mostly competitive at home, they were unable to find any success on the road. Oakland went winless in eight road games and was outscored 130-27 in the final three losses. The Raiders have lost 11 straight away games in all, plus a neutral site game in London.

"Way back when, when I came into this league, when the Raiders came into your building, you knew the Raiders were in the place," Sparano said. "It was like the Rolling Stones coming into town — you knew they were there. We've got to figure a way to bring that back."

WHERE'S WOODSON?: Safety Charles Woodson showed few signs of slowing down at age 38. He played in 1,100 defensive plays, 98.7 percent of Oakland's total, and led the team with 112 tackles to go along with four interceptions. Woodson said he would like to be back for another season in Oakland if he is wanted and assistant coach Marcus Robertson returns as well.

"The crazy thing is I still feel like I can get better," Woodson said. "We'll see what happens here."


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