Gerald Herbert / Associated Press
Wednesday, June 14, 2023 | 9:32 p.m.
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints quarterback Derek Carr apologetically said he failed to give the Las Vegas Raiders the best version of himself last season and is focused on not letting that happen again with his new team.
“They just didn’t get my best and that drove me crazy at the end of the year because I felt so spread out in so many different ways,” Carr said during minicamp this week. “I just didn’t feel like myself and I feel bad for the (Raiders) coaches and players.”
Carr’s self-described regression in 2022 wasn’t a matter of effort or desire, he said. Rather, it came down to his approach to a mix of professional and personal challenges which he regrets, but from which he also grew.
The professional challenges last season included learning a new offense under then-new coach Josh McDaniels. Carr also alluded to unspecified personal matters that he preferred remain private. The Raiders were the only team for which Carr had played until they released him last winter.
Since arriving in New Orleans, Carr said, he has tried to maintain a “simple” focus on his team and football.
“I’ve tried my best to get back to that. Hopefully it leads to some success,” Carr said. “It’s going to be a great lesson for me to learn to help some guys down the road when they go through a coaching change or a shift in whatever they’re doing.”
The Saints are hoping Carr will be the answer to inconsistent offensive production that has plagued them during consecutive non-playoff campaigns since Drew Brees’ retirement after the 2020 season.
Carr passed for 3,544 yards and 24 touchdowns but also threw 14 interceptions in 2022 — below the standard he’d set in four consecutive 4,000-plus yard seasons from 2018 to 2021.
Saints head coach Dennis Allen said that when New Orleans was courting Carr in free agency, “We talked about last year and how he probably didn’t have as good a season as he may have wanted or anticipated.”
“All I can say is that when I watch him now, there’s a clear focus on being the best version of himself for this football team,” Allen added.
During his four best years statistically, Carr played mostly under coach Jon Gruden. But Gruden resigned during the 2021 season after some of the coach’s emails, which included racist, homophobic and misogynistic language, were leaked publicly.
Carr said the coach’s departure was frustrating for him.
“He’s family to me,” Carr said. “When all that stuff happened, it was hard.”
While Carr didn’t condone the language that led to Gruden’s resignation, he said those emails were not indicative of the person he knew the coach to be.
So Carr was gratified when the Saints invited Gruden to a pair of voluntary practices in late May. Gruden met with coaches and Carr, discussing recollections of what Carr did well and how his strengths might suit the Saints’ offense.
“I’m thankful to be here and thankful I got to see him,” Carr said. “If anybody knows me, knows things about me that I don’t know, he would.”
Meanwhile, Carr said he’s trying to accelerate his transition by constantly communicating with teammates and coaches.
“I’m trying to ask every question possible,” Carr said. “Even if I kind of know the answer, I just ask it again to make sure.”
There have been signs of developing chemistry. During an 11-on-11 drill Wednesday, Carr hit Chris Olave on a long scoring pass and sprinted downfield with his arm raised triumphantly.
“He’s a guy you look forward to playing with,” Olave said. “He just uplifts everybody. He brings everybody’s confidence up. And having him behind center is huge.”
The Saints made signing Carr a priority in free agency because the coaching staff saw him as a good fit for their “West Coast” style offense.
“I don’t think it’s a huge overhaul,” offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said of Carr’s integration. “But there’s obviously some new concepts that we’re experimenting with.”
With the ability to distribute the ball among players such as Olave, receiver Michael Thomas and versatile running back Alvin Kamara, Carr said his decision-making could be more consequential than his arm talent.
Those decisions, Carr noted, will be influenced in part by the strength of New Orleans’ defense, which, under Allen as both a coordinator and head coach, has been statistically among the NFL’s best in recent years.
“These guys have played really good defense,” Carr said. “They make it really hard at practice.
“That’s only going to make it a lot more fun when the games come,” Carr continued. “You don’t have to force every pass.”
Notes: Saints veteran defensive end Cameron Jordan did not participate in practice Wednesday but Allen said with a grin that the reason was “old age,” not an injury.