Preseason served as the Aidan O’Connell show for the Las Vegas Raiders. The fourth-round pick (135th overall) in the 2023 NFL Draft showcased poise and precision as he operated the Silver & Black offense with the efficiency he was known for coming out of Purdue.
In the trio of exhibition games he played, O’Connell racked up 482 yards and three touchdowns going 43-of-62 with zero interceptions exhibiting the decisiveness and quick release that made him a walk on into the Boilermakers starting quarterback. It was such an impressive performance from a developmental mid-round pick, conjecture arose that O’Connell could supplant veteran Brian Hoyer as the primary backup to starter Jimmy Garoppolo.
Not so fast on that.
“Aidan has obviously got a lot of developing in front of him, Brian has played plenty of football, and obviously excited about Jimmy,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said in his Wednesday press conference as the team preps for a Week 1 date with the Denver Broncos. “So, feel like we’ve got a good room. We’ll figure all that out as we head into next week and beyond relative to how we’ll do that. But I like what those guys are doing, they work well together.”
That sounds like there really wasn’t a legit battle for the backup quarterback role and the exhibition slate was to see what the team had in O’Connell. McDaniels was later asked about who won the backup quarterback gig or if the battle is still ongoing and while he didn’t answer outright, he provided nuggets that portend to Hoyer being QB2 for now, with the situation being fluid.
“There are some other factors there that I would say that sometimes you don’t look at it that way because you’re evaluating the play on the field, but as you head into the regular season, nobody but the starter gets many opportunities in practice,” McDaniels noted. “And so, you just got to take into consideration what that would be like because to me playing a game with repetitions in practice is different than playing in a game with no repetitions in practice.”
Based on the regular season hierarchy, the starting quarterback does tend to gobble up 99 percent of the practice snaps. That’s historically been the case for the Raiders no matter the coach or quarterback combination as the previous nine season saw Derek Carr horde the repetitions — and for good reason. The starting signal caller needs to be dialed in as much as possible so anticipate Garoppolo dominating practice snaps. Considering that, Hoyer has O’Connell beat in spades in terms of NFL experience and familiarity with the offense McDaniels runs in the desert. And that makes him — for now — the better aligned backup if Garoppolo were to go down, despite Hoyer looking less capable in preseason action when compared to O’Connell.
Unsurprisingly, Las Vegas did end up keeping a trio of quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in Garoppolo, Hoyer, and O’Connell. However, in all likelihood, the Raiders may have just two quarterbacks active on game days due to the 48-man limit. The league did pass a new emergency quarterback rule that allows teams who only carry two signal callers on their active roster game days to carry a third — the emergency from the 53-man roster — that doesn’t count against the team’s 48-man limit.
“I don’t know that we are ever going to say we won one or not. To me, I’ve always looked at it like, we have a starter and then everybody behind him is going to be ready to go,” McDaniels added. “Obviously, we’ll have to declare what we’re going to do as we head into the regular season on a week-to-week basis. I think Brian [Hoyer] has done a good job with his opportunities; he knows that. And then Aidan [O’Connell] is continuing to learn and develop.”
Considering the medical history of both Garoppolo and Hoyer, however, don’t be surprised if O’Connell elevates to primary backup with a spot start here or there during the course of the Raiders’ 2023 campaign. Garoppolo won’t be confused for a paragon of health and Hoyer missed significant time last year with the New England Patriots. That’s surely something McDaniels and his coaching staff have in the back of their minds. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
“I think that’s always something I think about relative to this position, and that’s different there if you know you have an injury and we’re going to play three weeks here without our starter, now we have an opportunity to go ahead and figure out what we want to do with practice, and that’s a different conversation,” McDaniels said. “So, we’ll work through it here in the next 10 days. We know we’re going to have to declare something there and then try to make the best decision for the team.”
That declaration, of course, is having all three quarterbacks active on the 48-man limit or only have two active with one as the emergency signal caller.
“The guys with some experience offer their hand to Aidan when he has opportunity to learn from them, and those guys are hard at work trying to get ready themselves,” McDaniels said of Garoppolo and Hoyer. “So, that’s a position that’s important obviously, as we know, and having some depth there is never a bad thing.”