Aidan O’Connell was known for his efficiency during his tenure as the Boilermaker’s quarterback at Purdue. And in his Las Vegas Raiders debut, the rookie signal caller showed he’s a smoother operator in the NFL, too.
In his initial preseason game, at least.
O’Connell completed 15 of 18 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in the Raiders’ 34-7 preseason win over the visiting San Francisco 49ers displaying the accuracy that made him a successful collegiate quarterback.
Two of his three incompletions were drops giving the 6-foot-3, 209-pound 24-year-old a successful outing his his first substantial action in Silver & Black. Comfortable in the pocket and decisive with his throws, O’Connell — taken with the 135th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft was sacked once and even evaded pressure to lob the ball out of bounds when nearly dropped by the Niners, too.
The Raiders rookie quarterback looked more at ease than his 49ers counterpart Trey Lance — the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — who was sacked four times and finished 10 of 15 for 112 yards and a touchdown pass.
“I think it’s our offensive line. I think they did a great job,” O’Connell said about how he remained calm even when pressured. “All week in practice too, did a great job while I was in there and while the Qs were in there. They’re just working really hard. The coaches are hard on the offensive line, and they don’t get a lot of the glory sometimes. So, they’re the reason we can even run a run play or pass play, we can even start a play. The offensive line did a great job.”
O’Connell’s dart to veteran wide receiver Keelan Cole Sr. for a nine-yard touchdown just before halftime highlighted what drew the Raiders to the Purdue signal caller. It was a quick drop back, find the open man, fire the ball, leaving the opposing defense with little to no time to react. It was a combination of the offensive line giving O’Connell ample time, the quarterback seeing the receiver, Cole running a good route, and rookie speedster Tre Tucker drawing the outside cornerback away from the play in coverage, for the easy score.
O’Connell efficiently conducting the Raiders offense was matched by an opportunistic defense that not only harassed 49ers quarterbacks, but took the ball away — something the team couldn’t do enough of last season. Las Vegas forced a fumble and recovered it while cornerback Sam Webb almost had a pick six when he intercepted a dropped pass. The defensive outing was such a stark comparison to last season, Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels was asked if he saw potential clues for a defensive turnaround this coming season. He, of course, was tempered.
“That would be impossible for me for me to say today. Look, I think every player that plays on defense and every coach in our organization that’s working on that side of the ball is just doing everything they can, every day, to try to improve and get better,” McDaniels said. “That process started soon as the season ended. And where it will ultimately lead to, I don’t know, but I like our effort.”
Let’s hit the quick slants as fast as O’Connell threw the touchdown pass to Cole:
—The operation of longsnapper Jacob Bobenmoyer, holder AJ Cole, and placekicker Daniel Carlson is off to a good start. The special teams batter lined up twice for field goals with Carlson hitting both including a 53-yarder.
—Running back Zamir White ran well leading the Raiders ground game with 13 carries for 43 yards and a score. Sincere McCormick also found paydirt on an untouched run. In all, Las Vegas churned out 120 yards on 35 carries.
—White was stuffed in the backfield on a 4th-and-1 play early in the second quarter. The Raiders offensive line didn’t get much push and the 49ers dropped White for a one-yard loss — turnover on downs.
—Cornerback Duke Shelley could’ve had an interception in the end zone for the Raiders on the 49ers ensuing drive. However, he couldn’t snare in the pick and the deflection landed into the opportunistic hands of 49ers tight end Ross Dwelley for a nine-yard score instead.
—Tight end Cole Fotheringham led the Raiders in receiving with five catches for 71 yards (a long of 21). The blocking tight end showed he can run routes and has soft hands. Not a bad showing for a roster longshot.