- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - Of all the lessons Derek Carr has learned in his first NFL season, having a strong relationship with the offensive line has been maybe the most important.

The Raiders’ rookie quarterback has been one of the most well-liked players in the locker room since Oakland acquired him with the 36th overall pick in this year’s draft.

He is as comfortable talking shop with the team’s wide receivers as he is joking with the defensive linemen.

Yet it’s been Carr’s rapport with the five guys blocking for him up front that has stood out the most - and for obvious reasons.

“You have to have a great relationship with everybody because that whole team has to believe in you,” Carr said Tuesday.

“But with that said, you want that group to believe in you. They’re the ones that are going to fight for you, play hurt for you. They’re going to go that extra mile to make sure you’re OK.”

Carr returned to practice one day after being sent home by interim Oakland coach Tony Sparano when Carr showed up feeling ill.

The second-round pick said he’s feeling better and expects to start in Sunday’s season finale in Denver. He even arrived to practice ahead of time to get an early jump on things.

“I got here early to work out and see how I’d feel during that,” Carr said. “After that I felt pretty good. Felt good at practice. Not 100 percent, but it felt good to practice and be out here.”

Carr leads all rookie quarterbacks in yards passing and touchdowns.

He’s also closing in on the league record for most completions by a rookie quarterback. Carr has 330 completions and needs only 10 to move past Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and 25 to beat the mark established by Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams in 2010.

Left tackle Donald Penn said the team’s trust in the rookie quarterback developed almost from the instant he first stepped into the huddle with the starting offense.

Other Oakland offensive linemen, such as veteran right tackle Khalif Barnes and rookie left guard Gabe Jackson, have echoed similar sentiments about Carr.

Sparano has been Oakland’s offensive line coach since 2013 and has maintained those duties even after he was promoted to interim coach after Dennis Allen was fired four games into the season.

It’s Sparano’s belief that Carr’s relationship with his offensive linemen is important, if not more so, than the one the quarterback has with his wide receivers.

“Derek makes the people around him better, there’s no doubt about that,” Sparano said. “Any time you can get the respect of the line room the way that he’s gained the respect of the line room that says something. They’re the guys that have to go out there and block it up 75, 80 plays for you. I think those guys would do anything for Derek.

“We need those guys up front to block and they need to trust what’s behind them.”

Notes: Outside linebacker Khalil Mack was limited in practice with a hamstring injury. Mack’s injury - which occurred late in Sunday’s win over Buffalo - was originally diagnosed as cramping. … CB TJ Carrie did not practice and Sparano said there is some concern the rookie defensive back might not play against the Broncos. … WR Vince Brown (groin), WR Denarius Moore (knee/ankle), RT Menelik Watson (foot), CB Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) and TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion) did not practice. S Ras-I Dowling (hamstring) was limited.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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