MOBILE, Ala. — When you consider they are separated by 12 years, it's easy to understand that brothers David and Derek Carr really aren't clones of each other.
But the younger Carr, the Fresno State quarterback who has separated himself as the best of a mediocre Senior Bowl bunch this week, is trying his best to heed his older sibling's NFL experience — 12 years' worth — while also distancing himself as best he can.
So it's only fitting that the man overseeing Derek's progress this week is Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who was a quality control coach for the Houston Texans when they drafted David with their inaugural draft pick, No. 1 overall, in 2002. Fisch understands Carr's challenges as he prepares for May's draft.
"I mean, your brother was the No. 1 pick in the draft," Fisch said. "I don't want to say there's pressure, but expectations may be a little bit. Both good and bad. I think the biggest challenge for Derek is to be Derek. Eli [Manning] is Eli, right? He doesn't have to be Peyton.
"It's rare to have an older brother in the NFL who plays the same position, so the goal is for him to go out there and have [his] own identity and show us who he is."
At Fresno State, Carr broke some of his brother's records and set a few of his own, too. He was weaned there by former NFL assistant Pat Hill in a pro-style offense during his first two seasons. The past two years, Carr has been primarily in the shotgun, running a more wide-open system. This week, it has been back under center mostly.
"It's just like riding a bike, really," Carr said. "[Hill] taught me so well. I love that guy. He’s so smart, and he’s a football guy. I love him to death."
Carr has stood out in Mobile for a few reasons. He has the strongest arm of the South team quarterbacks, and his accuracy has been the best of any QB in town this week. Carr also has impressed with two post-practice throwing sessions off to the side of the field with some of his receivers.
Monday, Carr threw to Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews once the South practice ended, and on Tuesday two others joined them: Texas' Mike Davis and BYU's Cody Hoffman. The four of them spent about 10 minutes after practice Tuesday refining their routes and cohesion, making adjustments when needed along the way.
Lest you think this is some agent-driven dog-and-pony show meant to impress onlooking coaches and scouts, Carr says this is just how he always has done things.
"So this is nothing new to me. I like to throw after practice. Every single day. This isn’t just for show," Carr said. "[Matthews] came up to me and suggested it during the day [Monday], and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Now you see Cody and Mike want to get in there. It’s awesome. You can see how much they want to get better."
And what if five more receivers want to jump in after Wednesday's practice?
"If we do, so much the better," Carr said with a laugh. "I might just have to ice [my arm] a little bit."
The Senior Bowl has been a launching pad for several quarterbacks to elevate their draft stocks in recent seasons. E.J. Manuel went from intriguing second-day prospect to first-round pick and rookie starter with the Buffalo Bills last year. Brandon Weeden and Nick Foles performed well through the 2012 event and were taken in the first and third rounds, respectively, both starting games as rookies. And in 2011, Christian Ponder rose from injury-prone question mark to the 12th overall pick with a strong Senior Bowl performance.
Carr hopes to do the same, naturally, even if he hasn't been perfect so far. He has had a few balls flutter, a few more have sailed off target, and Carr has been seen shaking his head after them. Achieving perfection might not be realistic, but it's the only goal he knows to aim for.
"I get so mad when I miss a throw because I expect myself to make every throw," Carr said. "I put unreal expectations on myself because I think I can do it. I get upset, and I know the next one is going to be on point."
And here's where you can see a difference between Derek and David Carr. Talent never was David's problem, and there's no doubt he got punch drunk throwing behind what was one of the worst offensive lines when he was with the Texans. He took 249 sacks and countless more hits in five seasons in Houston, missing only five starts along the way but coming out battered and bruised and his starting days in the NFL all but over.
Carr then moved onto the Carolina Panthers for a year, and later to the New York Giants (with one year with the San Francisco 49ers sandwiched in the middle), happy and content to be a clipboard-carrying backup. Since 2008, David Carr only attempted 61 NFL passes but made a nice living as Eli Manning's primary understudy.
Some said that David was fine with that setup. But talk to Derek for a minute, and you can tell he's not ready for anything along those lines.
"I have seen a lot. I’ve seen the cheers, I’ve seen the boos, a lot of things a 12- and 13-year-old don’t get to see," Derek said. "A lot of people act like they can handle [bad] stuff, but I am not going to act like anything. I know the NFL, and I know it’s hard work."
But at the same time, he can't help but carry a smile with him the entire week. Everywhere he goes.
A team official was talking to Carr at around 11 p.m. Monday night, and it had been a brutal day for the players: early-morning weigh-in, practice in the afternoon, a mandatory dinner and media interviews at night, and then more meetings and interviews with teams after that. The official wanted to know why, after all that, Carr was still smiling.
"It’s because I have been dreaming of this since I was little," Derek said. "I could be doing a lot worse things than being here and being tired."
"Number one, you see his commitment to the game," Fisch said. "You see it in the meeting rooms, you see it on the practice fields. Even in two-a-days you can see it. He also throws a pretty ball, too."
It's hard to question Derek's desire to play and be great if the aversion therapy of David's demise in Houston — from franchise pillar to scapegoat — and middling career thereafter wasn't enough to damage the dream. He says he lives to play football, and he'll use his brother's knowledge and experience to help him, but past that, Derek is ready to blaze a new trail.
"I have a great resource to rely on to know how the NFL works," Derek said. "But I am just trying to be the best me I can be."
As for where in the draft he projects, it's a tricky call. At one point, Carr appeared to be a top-10 pick before underclassmen declared and he struggled in the bowl-game loss to USC. But a solid start to his Senior Bowl week has him on the rise, and it could end with him still landing solidly in Round 1. Just don't ask Carr where he thinks he fits in this class.
"I don’t know. That is above my pay grade. I don’t have to make those decisions," Carr said. "But wherever I go, I am going to be the very best Derek Carr I can be. And I am going to give back to that community because wherever I go, I am going to love that community."
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