The 2022 season marks Darren Waller's eighth year in the NFL. It's been quite a journey for the tight end, from his early struggles with addiction to breaking through with the Raiders and signing a $51 million extension earlier this year. Waller is now firmly in the top tier of tight ends in the league and a cornerstone of the Raiders' future plans.
Not all has gone according to plan this year, for Waller or the Raiders. The team is off to a slow start under new head coach Josh McDaniels, sitting at 2-5 through eight weeks. Waller hasn't played since Week 5, suffering a hamstring injury that has knocked him out for two straight games now.
The Big Lead went out to Las Vegas and observed Waller's hamstring recovery routine with Icy Hot Pro, but found time to ask Waller about how the season is going for the Raiders, Josh McDaniels' coaching style, and the growth of Derek Carr.
Liam McKeone: How much are you looking forward to getting back on the field?
Darren Waller: I’m excited. It’s frustrating any time you miss some time because you put in so much hard work and you want to be out there and be available and reliable for your teammates. We’re putting something good together so I’m excited to get back out there.
I’ve been progressing on the field as far as running around and working up to top-end speed, so it’s not like I’m getting thrown out there just to see what happens. I really feel confident in how my hamstring is holding out and I’m looking forward to being back into the normal day-to-day.
LM: How can the Raiders continue to improve and build some momentum as the season goes on?
DW: Just continuing to find an identity and being physical on offense, starting with our offense. Defensively they’re bringing the energy and making plays, forcing turnovers, they’re showing they can make explosive plays and score. It’s embracing an identity and knowing you have to beat different teams different ways, finding a plan that works and being adaptive to that plan.
LM: What sets Josh McDaniels apart as a coach?
DW: I feel like Josh is not really a rah-rah guy. He’s not going to give you a crazy speech or have these elaborate stories like a [Jon] Gruden would have. He’s strictly like, this is how we’re going to do it. One of the things he always says is, we’re going to beat different teams in different ways. He’s very fluid in how he approaches games on a week-to-week basis. A lot of coaches are like, this is our system and this is what we do. He’s like, we have the people and the means to go about winning in a different way each week. That’s what makes him different.
LM: The Raiders have gone through a lot over the last year and a half. Gruden was replaced by Rich Bisaccia and now McDaniels is in charge. How does that sort of adversity bring the locker room together?
DW: It brings guys closer together. It shows you the uncertainty. Coaches can get cut like players can. People can change. But when things are changing around you you rely on the constants around you and that’s the kind of family vibe and environment in the locker room. That can only change if we allow it to change. Things may be on the outside changing and there may be a lot of noise but we can control how we treat each other, how we respect each other, how we love each other. I feel like that’s been a constant and that’s what allowed success to show up in those tough times.
LM: How much growth have you seen out of Derek Carr after spending the last four years with him?
DW: I’ve seen him continue to grow as far as how he leads and the different ways he’s able to do so. His consistency, playmaking, you get a few different offensive lines and who knows how many coordinators he’s had to go through, how tough it is to take on a new system, it’s impressive how he’s been able to approach Josh’s and how fluid and fluent he is already in dissecting things, seeing things at the line. That’s one thing that’s always impressed me about him, his mental approach to the game. That and his leadership has always continued to grow each and every year, no matter what guys are in. He’s probably the only guy from years past that’s still here and withstood the test of time. It’s very impressive.