Raiders rookie QB Aidan O’Connell hopes his NFL story is just beginning

Aug 10, 2023, 10:42 AM

Quarterback Brian Hoyer #7 of the Las Vegas Raiders throws as quarterback Aidan O'Connell #4 looks ...

HENDERSON, NEVADA - JULY 26: Quarterback Brian Hoyer #7 of the Las Vegas Raiders throws as quarterback Aidan O'Connell #4 looks on during the first practice of the team's training camp at the Las Vegas Raiders Headquarters/Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center on July 26, 2023 in Henderson, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The idea of a walk-on at Purdue slowly rising to become a starting quarterback is enough of a long shot. Forget getting taken in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.

That’s Aidan O’Connell’s story so far, one the Las Vegas Raiders rookie hopes won’t end any time soon.

“I think you have to have a proper balance of reflection and also understanding I’m trying to play more football,” O’Connell said after practice Wednesday. “I don’t want that to be my story — just getting here. I want to work as hard as I can to stay.”

O’Connell has been taking snaps behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo and 15-year veteran Brian Hoyer, both of whom had experience in coach Josh McDaniels’ system when he was the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator.

The Raiders signed Garoppolo in the offseason, and under typical circumstances, this season would be one for O’Connell to learn from two experienced QBs. But Garoppolo’s injury history — he didn’t participate in organized team activities of minicamp because of a broken left foot — means Hoyer and O’Connell need to be ready to go in at any moment.

Hoyer, as the No. 2, would be the natural option to play if Garoppolo gets hurt. But Raiders coaches also might want to see what they have in O’Connell as they consider the team’s long-term needs at QB.

O’Connell said his focus is on the short term for now.

That was his approach at Purdue, where he walked on after not receiving any major scholarship offers. His rise up the depth chart was anything but meteoric: The patient but determined O’Connell became the starter in his fifth year.

He went on to start 24 games his final two seasons, throwing for 7,202 yards over that span with 50 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. O’Connell twice was selected second-team All-Big Ten Conference and set several Purdue records, including highest passing rating at 141.8.

“I started pretty low on the totem pole at Purdue and through just different circumstances was able to rise up the depth chart,” O’Connell said. “That’s definitely helpful. There are things you can bring over from college, but at the same time, it’s a completely new experience. So as much as I can rely on what I’ve been through, at the same time, you’ve got to look forward and continue to press forward.”

O’Connell said it didn’t take long to see the difference in talent and intensity between the highest level of college football and the NFL, saying “everyone is the 1 percent of the 1 percent.”

There also is the mental adjustment, and O’Connell said he has new responsibilities at the line of scrimmage that he didn’t have with the Boilermakers.

It all can be overwhelming for a first-year player, and O’Connell learned the value of keeping the process as simple as he can make it.

“I had a lot of great advice from people that have been in my shoes before, and try not to put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “Just be myself, enjoy the process. At the end of the day it’s just football, so I’m going to work as hard as I can, try not to leave any stone unturned, but at the same time enjoy it and have fun playing the game.”

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