Raiders have to decide if Aidan O’Connell has done enough to be backup QB

Aug 28, 2023, 5:30 PM

Quarterback Aidan O'Connell #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders looks to throw as offensive tackle Justin H...

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 13: Quarterback Aidan O'Connell #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders looks to throw as offensive tackle Justin Herron #71 of the Raiders blocks defensive end Alex Barrett #58 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the 49ers 34-7. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Has Aidan O’Connell done enough to become the Raiders’ second-string quarterback?

That’s a major question for management and coaches as they decide how to reduce Las Vegas’ roster to 53 players by Tuesday.

If O’Connell, who received a long look in all three preseason games, has played well enough to pass Brian Hoyer on the depth chart into No. 2 behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo could determine how many quarterbacks the Raiders take into the season.

The Raiders could decide that Hoyer being the backup makes the most sense for now, to have a 15-year veteran who knows coach Josh McDaniels’ system from their days together in New England. It also could be important to have someone with Hoyer’s experience in case Garoppolo — who has an injury history — gets hurt at some point.

O’Connell, who was drafted in the fourth round this year out of Purdue, has flashed potential in training camp and preseason games. If the Raiders view him as their possible quarterback of the future, that bolsters the case to make O’Connell the backup.

Then if they make that move, it’s possible the Raiders release Hoyer with the hope of signing him to the practice squad.

“I think it’s more just about the construction of the room,” Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler said about what goes into how many quarterbacks to carry. “We’ll see how this pans out. If it ends up with three, then we’ll have three.”

O’Connell, at least in the preseason, lived up to his reputation as being an efficient passer. He started two games and played substantially in all three, completing 69.4% of his passes for 482 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Aidan has taken advantage of his opportunities,” McDaniels said. “That’s all he can do. We played him a lot because Brian obviously has played quite a bit of football in his career and has practiced a good chunk, especially in the time (in the spring) that Jimmy was not out there, and then also did a lot of work in the joint practices. So they’ve gotten a ton of work, all of them have.”

McDaniels wasn’t ready to commit to either O’Connell or Hoyer as the backup, and said such a decision could be a moving target depending on what happens in the season.

“We’ll take stock of all that here in the next few weeks and try to make the best decision going forward, but I don’t see that as … a decision that’s going to be made and set in stone at all,” McDaniels said. “It’s a competitive environment.”

O’Connell helped lead Las Vegas to preseason victories over the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams before losing to the Dallas Cowboys 31-16 on Saturday.

“Practice reps are obviously awesome, but being able to go out in the game — that’s why the preseason is great for a rookie like me,” O’Connell said. “You can go out when live bullets are flying. You can go out and try to play your best, make mistakes, make good plays and learn on your feet. Those are priceless reps for me.”

Did he do enough to get the No. 2 spot?

Whether the Raiders go with two or three quarterbacks on Tuesday will be pretty telling what the organization thinks with the season less than two weeks away.

“I think he’s done a good job of learning the system and gaining some trust with our coaching staff and with his teammates,” Raiders assistant GM Champ Kelly said. “And as a young player, that’s all you want to do during this time.”

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