Even in the preseason, when a rookie quarterback makes his NFL debut the results are typically a mix of good and bad plays. Just ask the top three QBs drafted last April—Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson—as all three had their share of ups and downs over the weekend.
However, in the case of the Las Vegas Raiders’ first-year signal-caller Aidan O’Connell against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, there’s was pretty much nothing for the Raiders to be disappointed about.
O’Connell played the entire first half and completed 15 of 18 passes (83.3 percent) for 141 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Of his three incompletions, one was a clear drop by rookie wide receiver Tre Tucker and another was a dime down the sideline that slipped through Tucker’s hands. In other words, the Purdue product only really had one bad toss all game.
“It was good. It was good,” O’Connell said while recapping his performance to reporters. “Definitely some things to work on still, but it was fun to be out there, live action and bullets are really flying. It’s a little different when you play quarterback, even if you practice against another team that can’t tackle you in practice and they can now. So, just to add a level of juice a little more. So, it was a lot of fun to be out there.”
O’Connell started the game strong, leading the Raiders on a 10-play, 68-yard touchdown drive during the team’s opening possession. He completed both of his passes for 36 yards and added four more on the ground via a third and one QB sneak before running bak Zamir White punched the ball in the endzone a few plays later.
But it was just before halftime when the 24-year-old passer did what every kid dreams of in their backyard; scoring their first NFL touchdown.
“Yeah, it was split safety and we had to play a call for split safety and Keelan [Cole] did a good job running the route,” O’Connell began recapping the play. “Tre [Tucker] was outside and did a good job running his route hard, and it was pretty wide open. So, I just tried to make a good pass.”
He opted not to keep the ball, though, unlike what is customary with a player scores their first professional touchdown, and channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch by joking that he wasn’t trying to get fined. In a way, that was another smart decision he made during the game.
What might be an underrated aspect of O’Connell’s performance is how cool, calm and collected he was after the game despite having so much success. When asked if he pictured having the debut that he did, he replied:
“You just kind of hope to go out there and do your best and see what happens. I’m not worried about the stats. There’s more things than just the stats, and especially responsibility in the run game and stuff like that that I know I need to improve on. So, I know I have a lot of work to go still.”
Adding to the former Boilermaker’s subdue demeanor, he stepped onto the field for his first NFL game with little to no nerves.
“Honestly, I went out there pretty excited,” O’Connell said. “The first time we went out there in warm-ups and just running out in the NFL jersey I think is really when a lot of the jitters went away just to be out there and hear the crowd yell and everything like that. Obviously, you get into the flow of the game with the completions and getting hit a couple of times - those helped, but I was pretty confident today and just trying to do my job.”
Now, his focus needs to turn to stacking strong performances together, which he seems to understand especially when talking about his pre-snap responsibilities.
“I’m just trying to do my job as best I can. There’s more responsibility I have at the line of scrimmage here than I did at Purdue, so there’s really there’s no space for complacency or not being locked in. You have to be locked in in order to succeed. So, I’m just trying to be locked in on every place.”
O’Connell’s attention now shifts to another NFC West foe as the Raiders take on the Los Angeles Rams next Saturday for their second preseason game and the fourth-round pick’s second opportunity to show the league what he’s all about.