Las Vegas Raiders v Tennessee Titans
Getty Images

Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders has established himself as one of the best tight ends in the NFL. The Pro Bowler recorded more than 1,100 receiving yards in both 2019 and 2020, which led to a record-breaking contract he put pen to paper on three months ago. 

Unfortunately for Waller, he has played just five games this season due to a lingering hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve. Waller is not eligible to return to the field until Week 14, but he still wanted to take part in the NFL's "My Cause My Cleats" celebration in Week 13. On Thursday, Waller spoke to CBS Sports via phone to discuss when he may return to the field, his new head coach, Josh McDaniels, and what he's learned about himself during this tough season.

Darren Waller
LV • TE • #83
REC YDs175
View Profile

CBS Sports: How's the hamstring feeling these days? You getting ready to rev up to some activity?

Waller: Yeah. The hamstring is feeling really good. This Sunday coming up is my last game on IR, so Monday I'll be back after it and then we'll see what the plan is as far as me playing Thursday or wait until the following week since we won't have a full week of practice. But I'm feeling as close to 100% as I've felt all year."

Tell me about this journey you've gone through with USAA, Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, and the "My Cause My Cleats" project. I saw you wanted to honor your cousin, Mary Griffin, who served in the Army for 20 years.

Yeah it's an amazing opportunity to team up with USAA. I met with them during the draft, and was able to continue to partner with them with the Salute to Service and for "My Cause My Cleats." We had a really cool thing at Allegiant Stadium a few weeks back with the Wounded Warrior project. So getting to sit with them, talk about our lives, our journeys, our mental health stories -- just really getting to know them. It was really dope. I had somebody that I worked with before with custom cleats, his name is "Soles By Sir" when it comes to designing. Getting him on the job as far as getting everything that I wanted to get on there: All the branches of military, the Wounded Warrior project, my foundation logo because the service of the military definitely inspires the service that I try to give out through my foundation (The Darren Waller Foundation). It really turned out to be an amazing project that I'm proud of and honored to be partnered with.

What's your new head coach, Josh McDaniels, like? He seems like an interesting coach given all his experience and success as a coordinator in New England.

I have a ton of respect for Josh, just the pedigree for winning, doing things at a high standard, holding players to a high standard, I really enjoy. You see more and more of his personality coming out as the season goes on. Even when things weren't necessarily going well, he always believed in us, and it was really just a matter of little things that would make a difference to allow the team to put some wins together like we have these last couple of weeks. I'm really impressed by him, the way that he handled a start that wasn't very ideal. I feel like he's really kept his composure and really stuck to what he believes in, and it allows the players to believe in the scheme and the process as well. So I have a ton of respect for Josh.

How has he changed the strategy with the tight ends? He had a lot of success scheming with some talented guys in New England. What has he brought to your position group specifically?

I would say he's just brought an element that's really based and predicated off of having the tight ends make big plays down the field. That's constantly been prevalent over the film that we've seen just learning this offense. You see what Foster (Moreau) is doing right now, and some of the things that I was able to do at the beginning of the year, just making big plays, especially when guys like Josh (Jacobs) really get rolling and linebackers start biting up, and openings are happening over the middle of the field. When people want to play split coverage and make sure they got a small army over Davante (Adams), so it really opens things up over the middle of the field for us and allows tight ends to make big plays, not just like six-yard stick routes and things like that."

What have you seen from running back Josh Jacobs?. He's having an incredible year.

Josh Jacobs
LV • RB • #28
View Profile

Josh's success is not surprising me one bit. I've been a teammate of Josh's ever since he came in, and Day 1, when he stepped in when we were in Oakland, I knew he was a star. Even when he was at Alabama, it was just clear as day. So he continues to grow and flourish, and I know most of last season wasn't what he wanted it to be, but he really finished strong last season and came in this year and is just playing unbelievable. And really just playing like the Josh that we've always known and the talent we've seen every single day for the last four years.

What's Derek Carr like as a leader? We saw him get emotional following that loss to the Colts. He seems like someone who truly cares about not only the game of football, but the organization as well. 

Oh yeah man. Derek is one of the greatest Raiders ever. He's somebody that believes in the organization. The way that he leads, he shows up, he just cares, man. He cares about the game, he cares about the team, he cares about the individuals and he wants to win a championship. I respect the way that he goes about it every single day. He does it with poise, he does it with toughness, he does it with preparation. So everything that you would want a quarterback to do, Derek does, and he's a really cool guy to be around on a day-to-day. Very encouraging, very upbeat. It's an honor to have him as a teammate. 

It's tough when any player has to miss time due to injury. What do you think you've learned about yourself this year?

I feel like I've learned a lot about myself this year. Just learning that adversity is always something that's going to be consistent throughout the human experience, no matter who you are. You can't control when it's going to happen, you can't control and try to figure out all the time why it's happening, but you can always take lessons from it, you can always find growth in it. And for me, it's about trying to find ways to still stay involved, still be of service to this team, still find ways to just let the team know and guys know that I'm still connected to this thing. And that's something that will always be a valuable lesson. It's not as important about what I can get out of certain things, but it's really the main lesson is what can I bring to any situation no matter what. If something isn't going my way, I can always bring something to the table, so that's a lesson that I learned this year.