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3 things to watch as Raiders enter final phase of OTAs

Updated June 7, 2024 - 6:47 pm

The Raiders are scheduled to have two practices this week, the third and final phase of organized team activities. Their mandatory minicamp is set for June 11 to 13.

Here are three things to watch this week:

1. Quarterback play

The offense struggled throughout last Tuesday’s open practice, specifically during the periods devoted to third-down offense and defense. The issues started with quarterbacks Aidan O’Connell and Gardner Minshew.

In defense of them, several key players were not on the field, including wide receiver Davante Adams and left tackle Kolton Miller. And it’s not unusual for the defense to be ahead of the offense this time of year, especially one as talented and experienced as that of the Raiders. Plus, the offense is learning a new system under coordinator Luke Getsy and trying to decide whether O’Connell or Minshew will be the starter.

There were bound to be off days.

Nevertheless, the struggles were conspicuous for a team that needs better play from its quarterbacks, especially in high-level situations. Minshew ranked 25th in the NFL last season on third downs in 12 starts for the Colts, and O’Connell was 27th in nine starts for the Raiders, according to Sharp Football.

Not surprisingly, the Raiders ranked 25th in third-down conversion rate at 35.6 and the Colts 26th at 35.3. To put those rankings in perspective, 11 of the top 12 third-down quarterbacks led their teams to the playoffs, and the league’s 11 best teams at converting first downs on third downs all reached the playoffs.

It was not much better for either in the red zone. Minshew ranked 22nd with a quarterback rating of 84.6 and O’Connell 25th at 83.9.

The correlation between quarterback play and overall efficiency in those areas is indisputable. OTA success will not make or break the Raiders during the season, but it doesn’t hurt to establish good habits.

2. Return of key players?

It makes sense for the Raiders to monitor the work usage of veterans during OTAs, so it’s not concerning that Adams and Miller haven’t participated in the two practices open to the media. Miller is coming off a late-season shoulder injury, and Adams is approaching his 11th season.

One conspicuous absence is rookie guard Jackson Powers-Johnson, who participated in rookie minicamp two weeks ago and was briefly seen during the first open OTA two weeks ago. He has not been seen since leaving the field shortly after the start of practice.

Teams are not required to share information about injuries this time of year, so it isn’t clear why Powers-Johnson hasn’t been on the field.

Powers-Johnson will transition from college center to NFL left guard, one of three linemen assuming new roles. Dylan Parham is moving from left guard to right guard, and Thayer Munford is expected to take over for Jermaine Eluemunor at right tackle.

3. Cornerback battle

Aside from incumbent starters Nate Hobbs and Jack Jones, the Raiders have multiple roles to fill at cornerback. That includes identifying a perimeter starter opposite Jones and up to three other reserve roles.

The Raiders broke camp last year carrying six cornerbacks. That number dipped to five at times during the season, but they typically had a sixth to call up from the practice squad on game day.

The candidates consist of veterans Jakorian Bennett, Brandon Facyson and Cornell Armstrong, and rookies Decamerion Richardson, M.J. Devonshire, Rayshad Williams, Ja’Quan Sheppard and Woo Governor.

Bennett, in his second season, began last year as a starter and played in 14 games. Facyson has appeared in 75 games during his five years in the league, Armstrong 39 in four and Webb 18 in two.

It’s a decent mix of experience and potential, but predicated on someone claiming the open starting job and figuring out the depth. The Raiders hope to have a firm handle after minicamp on whether those players are on the current roster. If not, don’t be surprised if they dip into the free-agent market for help.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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