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Raiders Week 9: Aidan O’Connell’s opportunity will shape team’s future

Las Vegas turns to rookie quarterback and can get answers on short and long-term projection

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders are going to start rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell this Sunday against the New York Giants. By going to the fourth-round pick, the Raiders can properly gauge the short and long-term outlook at the all-important signal caller position.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In his introductory press conference on Wednesday afternoon as interim head coach for the Las Vegas Raiders Antonio Pierce got straight to the point.

“It’ll be Aidan going forward,” Pierce said when asked about the quarterback position as he was flanked by interim general manager Champ Kelly.

That’s fourth-round pick Aidan O’Connell. Noting the Purdue product gives the team the best chance to win, Pierce conviction in his words and energy was ever present. We’re going to get the chance to see O’Connell sink or swim and the choice to turn to the fourth-round pick is a prudent one for the Silver & Black outlook.

Not just for the immediate results, but for the long view, too. Las Vegas is going to get vital answers, data, and game film on O’Connell. His ascension and opportunity as QB1 will shape the team’s future. First up in Week 9 is the New York Giants at home inside Allegiant Stadium. That’s followed by another home matchup with the New York Jets the following week, at the Miami Dolphins after that, and hosting the Kansas City Chiefs Week 12 on Nov. 26 before a bye week.

The Short Term

As I wrote in the white flag piece on Brian Hoyer last week, how much worse can it get with O’Connell under center? The Raiders need to see what the kid has to offer to get answers on the mistakes O’Connell will make, how he reacts to them, and if he improves the next outing or not. The organization needs a definitive answer on if they scouted and drafted well or not.

Giving O’Connell the floor as starting quarterback gives the Raiders the opportunity to find out.

The former head coach, Josh McDaniels, appeared afraid to find that out and instead went with grizzled veteran and super flop Brian Hoyer before going back to the supremely ineffective Jimmy Garoppolo — two of McDaniels’ former New England Patriot pupils. McDaniels took a sharp jab at the notion of going to O’Connell with his “this isn’t preseason anymore” barb. Offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi noted O’Connell needed consistency.

“Yeah, he’s making progress,” McDaniels said in his final Monday press conference as Raiders head coach, regarding O’Connell. “And again, we’ve talked about this as kind of an evaluation that we would do this all year. And those guys really compete hard and practice well, and I think Aidan’s really been making some progress, and I just want to give him some opportunities if that presents itself. We’ll see how it goes going forward.”

McDaniels will see from a far. He, along with Lombardi and general manager Dave Ziegler, are ex-Raiders after owner Mark Davis made sweeping changes.

In are Pierce, Kelly, and Bo Hardegree as offensive coordinator promoting up from his quarterbacks coach spot. If there’s one person who should know O’Connell well, it’s Hardegree. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound 25-year-old is the starter the rest of the way as Garoppolo has been benched.

We’ll see if Las Vegas takes off the training wheels and gives O’Connell the opportunity to attack defenses vertically with mid to deep shots. A productive run game should help with this but the rookie signal caller has a chance to be a ripple effect that helps the Raiders personnel people and coaching staff more of fellow rookies tight end Michael Mayer and wide receiver Tre Tucker. Garoppolo and Hoyer set the bar extremely low for O’Connell and he must make the most of the opportunity ahead of him.

Green Bay Packers v Las Vegas Raiders
Raiders starting rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell would do well to create a rapport and production with fellow rookie tight end Michael Mayer in Week 9 and going forward.
Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

The Long Term

Las Vegas is afforded a key evaluation period with O’Connell (and the rest of the roster). As noted above, the former Boilermaker is older for a first-year player at age 25 and his performances over the course of the Raiders’ next nine games is going to dictate the Silver & Black’s approach this offseason.

O’Connell shows signs of growth, progress, and development — not necessarily wins — the Raiders may be able to take the best player available in the first round instead of contemplating a first-round quarterback prospect. Maybe the Raiders could wait until round two and the ensuing stanzas to look for another young signal caller to make it a competitive quarterbacks room. Having a serviceable, if not better, option at arguably the most important position on offense gives the Raiders options and doesn’t pigeonhole them into one particular scenario.

The coaching and personnel staff have a vested interest in putting O’Connell in the best possible position to succeed and develop him. By showing Davis that not only is O’Connell not a wasted draft pick but has the makings of an NFL starting quarterback moving forward, that increases Pierce’s and Kelly’s shot of landing the full-time role as head coach and general manager, respectively.

“Very supportive,” Pierce said of the locker room reaction when the announcement that O’Connell is the starting quarterback going forward was made.

“The guys are rallying behind him. They’re excited to watch him get his opportunity,” Kelly added. “I was there as AP (Antonio Pierce) was speaking to the team, and he had their eyes. There was an energy that was tangible in the room. There was a true excitement. Guys are geared up to prepare for this weekend.”

Hence O’Connell shaping the future of the franchise.