If Derek Carr is compromised, it could be time for Raiders to see what Marcus Mariota has

HENDERSON, Nev. -- As Jon Gruden put it Tuesday, Derek Carr was "limited" in practice after injuring a groin muscle Thursday night, he split reps with Marcus Mariota and "we'll see how it goes this week" in terms of who plays quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday against the Miami Dolphins (8:15 p.m. ET/NFL Network).

The logical follow-up question for the Raiders coach, then, is this -- why?

If Carr is in any way compromised -- reports have the strained groin needing 10-14 days to heal -- why should the Raiders risk it with him, especially with Mariota healthy and having shown a different dynamic in the Raiders' heartbreaking 30-27 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers?

Now, this is not to suggest that Mariota is the future and Carr should be thrown into the dustbin of Raiders history. Far from it. It's just that the Raiders made a pretty significant investment in Mariota as the highest-paid backup in the NFL -- with a $7.5 million base salary this season -- and, well, he has only been active for three games.

And when he did get on the field, he brought something to the game that had been missing from the Raiders' offense -- a preternatural ability by the quarterback to extend plays with his legs.

"What Marcus did last night was spectacular," Gruden said Friday. "We felt that the No. 1 thing we had to do with Marcus was get him healthy again. That's what hurt him in Tennessee, and, obviously, his ankle looked healthy last night. His shoulder looked healthy. He came to training camp and he hurt his pec, so we kept him on ice and we kept him in the rehab until he was healthy, and then we put him back out there as the No. 2 quarterback.

"When this kid is healthy, this guy is a special playmaker and I think he proved it last night."

Mariota rushed for a game-high 88 yards, including eight first downs, on nine carries. He had a physical 2-yard rushing TD. He passed for 226 yards, including a pretty 35-yarder down the left sideline to Darren Waller.

To be fair, the Chargers had no idea what hit them.

They were not expecting to face a dual-threat quarterback. They were looking for Carr, who pulled up late in the first quarter near the goal line.

The Raiders, though, they know exactly what they have in Carr, a second-round draft pick in 2014 who has been the team's starting quarterback since his rookie season, holds virtually every franchise passing record and had been playing well enough at the midpoint of the season to start angling for another extension. Yeah, to follow up the five-year, $125 million deal he got in the summer of 2017.

In this, his third season in Gruden's offense.

"He's champing at the bit to play," Gruden said of Carr, who four years ago would not rule out playing in the Super Bowl -- if the Raiders had made it that far -- despite breaking his right ankle in Week 16, and who missed just one game in 2017 after suffering broken bones in his back.

"He's one of the premier competitors in the league. It's important to him and, like I said, we're emphasizing the word 'finish' and he wants to finish the job, no doubt. But we're going to be smart ... we'll do what's right. We'll do we think is right for Derek and for our team. I do admire his toughness and his will to compete."

The Raiders don't know, exactly, what they have in Mariota, who signed a two-year, $17.6 million free-agent deal with Las Vegas in March after five years with the Tennessee Titans.

Not in a regular ramp-up week, where Mariota gets the majority of the first-team snaps. As Carr acknowledged, Mariota's skillset caught the Chargers by surprise.

"I thought Marcus did a great job," Carr said, referencing his taking every first-team snap in practice last week. "For him to go into the game and do some of the things he did was unbelievable.

"As a fan of his, from afar, watching what he went through. I was just happy. I didn't want to get hurt for it to have to happen, but I was happy to see him play and have success."

So why not give Mariota the job for the week, to let Carr heal and allow the Raiders to get a sense of how Mariota reacts in a starting role?

The playoffs are all but gone for the Raiders, with four losses in their past five games, and while the ultimate goal is to compete each and every game, giving Mariota some run with Carr still hobbled pushes the Raiders in that direction ... in the short run.

"You've seen us play, we switch gears," Gruden said of Mariota replacing Carr against the Chargers. "We went to a completely different role offensively in a lot of places. But Mariota still proves he's a dual threat. He's obviously very sharp. He can handle a lot of situations and if need be, he'll be ready again."