STAR quarterbacks aren't born so much as they emerge. It is a gradual process in most cases, a journey of countless small steps. Derek Carr, the Raiders' second-year QB, remembers that one of his first significant steps came last season in Oakland's final exhibition game, against the Seahawks. Carr took his five-step drop and saw that his primary receiver, Denarius Moore, wasn't open. He looked at his secondary target, Andre Holmes—covered. So he quickly turned to his third option, Latavius Murray, and completed a pass downfield just as he took a shot to the sternum.
Carr doesn't recall who hit him, but he remembers popping up to his feet faster than the tackler did. It was in that moment that he knew something had changed for him, but more importantly, for his teammates. "I think the guys said, Maybe this guy's got what it takes," Carr recalls. "It just kept growing, in little moments like that. My confidence grew and their trust grew. It's small things that most people don't notice that build a team."
They can also build a star, a description that Carr may grow into soon. He has already covered more ground than anyone expected as a second-round pick from Fresno State. The idea coming into camp was that veteran Matt Schaub would be the starter, and that Carr would spend most (if not all) of the season on the sideline, watching, learning and waiting. But Carr just kept doing things right in practice, stringing together those little moments in preseason games, and it was enough to change the Raiders' plans. Dennis Allen, the coach at the time, made Carr the starter in the opener against the Jets, and he never relinquished the job.
The stats told part of the story: a .518 completion rate, 21 TDs, 12 INTs. But some of the most encouraging aspects of Carr's season were harder to quantify. In Week 5, against the Chargers, for instance, he was shaken up on one play and the Raiders' coaching staff wanted to give him a blow—but Carr resisted. "The coaches were yelling to come out, but I had thrown a pick to [corner Jason Verrett] on the series before, and I hadn't had a chance to throw at him again," he says. "Coach called a run play, but I checked to a pass so I could get a completion on the guy, or I wouldn't have been able to sleep that night."
Carr also has a certain maturity that keeps his abundant self-confidence from turning into cockiness. "He's old beyond his years," says new Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. "He knows he can handle things at this level. Even second-year players have a little deer-in-the-headlights look. Not him."
That comfort comes in large part from Carr's brother David, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, who has uploaded much of his quarterbacking knowledge into Derek's brain in the form of constant quizzes. "When I was in college, he was always like, 'You come to the line and the defense is lined up this way—what's the coverage?'" Derek says. "Now he takes the approach that he's taught me everything he can; he sits back and waits for me to come to him with questions."
Derek has plenty of them—"If I'm facing a defensive coordinator he faced during his career, I'll ask him about blitz tendencies, things like that," he says. But more often Derek simply benefits from having a brother who can say, "I know how you feel," and mean it. "I told him after one game I was so sore I felt like I could barely walk," the younger Carr says. "I didn't take any big hits that game, but David understood."
David never enjoyed the individual success that his younger brother has, largely because of a porous Texans offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 249 times in his first five seasons. But he does have a Super Bowl ring, won as a backup with the Giants in 2012, that Derek covets.
"That's more important than any label," Derek says. "Star is really just a label, and I could never apply that to myself. Do I want to be one of the best? Yes. If I do that and it leads to someone wanting to put that label on me, great. Because that will mean my team is winning."
Carr sees signs that the Raiders are on the right track, beginning with Del Rio. "In addition to the effect he's going to have on the field, there's new paint on the facility," Carr says. "The whole parking lot is clean—no trash. He wants everything to look first-class. No detail is too small."
The journey to a Super Bowl, like the one to stardom, begins with small steps.
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Interceptions in 2014, lowest among the 12 QBs in NFL history who have attempted at least 450 passes in their rookie year.
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JEFF ZELEVANSKY/GETTY IMAGES (CARR)