Derek Carr was the last one to leave.
It was the final day of Raiders training camp in Napa. Staff was scurrying around to tear down the temporary weight room and pack up the moving truck for the return to Alameda. Players were rushing to take showers, get to their cars and head home.
Carr, on the other hand, was in no rush.
The Raiders' quarterback enters his third season in a good place: on the cusp of elite NFL quarterback status. Carr's 53 touchdown passes over two seasons is the best quarterback start in league history by anyone not named Dan Marino.
Yet he remains among the team's hardest workers, almost always the last one to leave the practice field.
"I have an expectation of myself," Carr says. "I put in work to make sure that expectation is met."
On this day, there's another reason he's still out there. The last day of camp meant there wasn't a large crowd of fans on hand, but the intimate gathering included some local high school football players.
As he signed autographs and mingled with the kids, Carr couldn't help but imagine there was likely another Derek Carr among that group.
"I guarantee there was at least one that thought, 'I'm going to keep working hard. I'm going to be out here with them,' " he said.
Raised around football
Carr has been raised around football. He was 11 when his brother David was the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2002.
One of the many lessons David instilled in Derek was to be his own harshest critic.
"That way when somebody else says something about you, it doesn't even matter," Derek Carr said.
As Carr embarks on this season, the praise is coming from nearly everywhere. He's been called the next Brett Favre, with the Hall of Famer himself saying that Carr is actually "a little more polished" than him.
The criticism is there, too. His gunslinger style can be both a blessing (miraculous touchdown throws many quarterbacks dare not attempt) and a curse (seven interceptions over his final five games last year).
ESPN.com recently released its third annual NFL quarterback tier rankings, a survey of 42 general managers, personnel evaluators and coaches throughout the league.
Carr fell into its Tier 3 category, defined as a "Legit starter but needs heavy run game/defense to win." He was ranked as the league's 16th best quarterback -- middle of the pack.
A complaint, via an anonymous personnel director: "When we got pressure on him, he turned into a different guy. The great ones aren't like that. Russell Wilson, there is never going to be panic in him. As a matter of fact, he wants it because he knows he can break contain, and if they get single coverage, they are going to beat it. I still have some reservations about Carr because of his poise under pressure."
Carr's fourth quarters also must be better. While he tied for the NFL lead last year with four comeback victories, he had a passer rating of just 67.8 in the fourth quarter and threw seven of his 13 interceptions in the final 15 minutes.
As his own worst critic, what does Carr see as his biggest flaw?
"I can pick it apart in eight different columns," he says.
"I have to be more efficient," Carr offers.
Others agree, including NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout who played quarterback in college at Appalachian State.
As a rookie, Carr averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt -- worst in the league among starters. His lack of weapons contributed (his leading receiver was current No. 4 wideout Andre Holmes), but he was too cautious.
That fear went away last year as he threw the ball 26 fewer times but attacked downfield, and his passing yards jumped by 22 percent to 3,987, third most in franchise history. Still, his 13 interceptions tied for ninth in the league.
"The first year, I wished he would be a little more aggressive," Jeremiah said. "And then the second year, it's like, 'Man, he's being really aggressive. Maybe just be a little more efficient.'
"I think there's some middle ground there that he can find where he can be selectively aggressive, take some shots when they're there, but also don't pass up the easy completion."
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, now an analyst for NFL on CBS, understands Carr's mindset. He played in an era in which even the best quarterbacks often threw as many or more interceptions than touchdowns, and Fouts believes in letting his teammates make plays.
"When you've got good receivers like he has ... you want to give them a chance," he said. "You've got to believe in their abilities to beat the coverage and fire it in there."
The next step
Those who have studied Carr's career believe he's set to take the next step, so long as his mental approach continues to grow.
"I think the big thing in year three is just play with more confidence," said Rich Gannon, an NFL on CBS analyst who quarterbacked the Raiders to their last playoff appearance in 2002.
"I think playing faster from under center, in other words, the ability to be able process information quicker and more efficiently. Because he's got a history now and is probably not going to be thinking as much. He can go out and react to what he sees."
"Physically, he'll work on his release and his accuracy and all of those things," said Steve Mariucci, the former 49ers coach and current NFL Network analyst. "But the big jump comes with knowledge of the system, understanding of defenses and how do you protect against blitzes. Those kind of mental things and intangible things."
Carr's arm strength and underrated mobility already put him ahead of the game.
"He's got a big-time arm. He can make all the throws," Gannon said. "He's got very good mobility. I'd like to see him use his legs a little more, because I think he can and he should."
"He's got some rare physical tools in terms of the arm talent," Jeremiah added. "He throws off platforms very few guys can make."
So how high can Carr ascend past his middle-of-the-pack standing?
"His physical ceiling is as high as anybody right now," Jeremiah said. "I think it's all within his capabilities and especially with what they're putting around him. For him to be in the Pro Bowl each and every year, I think is something that should probably be an expectation."
Continuity is on Carr's side.
He will play for the same coaching staff, led by head coach Jack Del Rio, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Todd Downing.
The top four wide receivers -- Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes -- remain the same. The tight ends, highlighted by the promising Clive Walford, are back. So is running back Latavius Murray.
The one major change on the offensive line -- Kelechi Osemele -- was a significant upgrade.
Gannon had Tim Brown for the bulk of his Raiders career and three years with Jerry Rice. Carr has Cooper for at least three more years under his rookie deal and Crabtree locked up for the next four seasons.
"That's really important to be able to put a string of seasons together with guys that you're familiar with, guys that you have a comfort level with," Gannon said.
Part of Carr taking the next step will be continuing to take charge in the huddle and the locker room. With several key veterans now retired, Carr needs to put his own meaningful stamp on the Raiders organization.
"I think Derek is a natural leader," Del Rio said. "He's a great teammate, great worker. Work ethic is spot on."
That leadership will be needed all the more. Charles Woodson is gone. So is Justin Tuck. Both were sage veteran voices in the locker room.
Heading into year three, Mariucci reasons, Carr has established within the locker room where he can take this team, that he's "our guy," one who can "take us where we want to go.
"This is Derek Carr's team now."
Young, aspiring Derek Carrs, among many others, will be watching intently.