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Raiders QB takes step forward in competition with strong practice

Updated June 5, 2024 - 10:12 am

What happens during organized team activities won’t make or break the Raiders’ regular season.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t significant that quarterback Aidan O’Connell and the team’s offense rebounded from a spotty practice last week with a crisp effort Tuesday.

At one point O’Connell threw four straight touchdown passes during an efficient red-zone period. Two of those throws went to tight ends, perhaps a sign of things to come given the Raiders’ talent at the position.

It was a day O’Connell can be proud of as he tries to hold onto his starting job as a sophomore. He’s alternated between good and bad days while learning new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system, but it felt like the whole operation took a step forward Tuesday.

“Obviously, it’s still a new playbook, so we’ve had some good days, we’ve had some not-so-good days,” O’Connell said. “We’re trying to be consistent, just like we want to be in a game. But it’s been fun to see the progression of our offense.”

O’Connell had the better day Tuesday as he competes with veteran Gardner Minshew.

O’Connell’s accuracy stood out on several throws. The fact he was sharp in the red zone was also notable given the Raiders’ struggles near the goal line last season. O’Connell’s 83.9 passer rating in the red zone ranked 25th in the NFL. The Raiders scored touchdowns on just 48.9 percent of their possessions that reached their opponent’s 20-yard line, the 24th-best rate in the league.

Improving those numbers is a huge priority. Whichever quarterback shows they can perform better in the red zone will have a huge leg up in the battle to take the Raiders’ first snap of the season.

O’Connell said execution near the goal line begins with preparation.

“(It’s) focusing on the details,” O’Connell said. “Coach Getsy has done a great job of emphasizing that in our installs. Making sure that guys are understanding what they are doing. And not just just the basics, but the details to the nitty-gritty of each play.”

This offseason has been an interesting one for O’Connell.

He’s learning a new offense while trying to hold off Minshew. His nine-game stint as the Raiders’ starter last year after coach Antonio Pierce took over — O’Connell went 5-4 while throwing 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in that stretch — earned him plenty of respect in the locker room. But it buys him nothing this summer except an opportunity to win the job again.

Everything from his work in the classroom to his performance in practice will factor into the Raiders’ decision. It’s a mental high-wire act, but one he seems equipped to handle.

“It’s a little bit like starting over,” O’Connell said. “But at the same time it’s now my second year in the NFL. I think all the extra rookie stuff I don’t have to do anymore is really a weight off my shoulders.”

O’Connell also knows what he’s up against. Minshew started 13 games for the Colts last season, going 7-6 while throwing 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. O’Connell needs to be locked in to stand out. Tuesday was a step in the right direction.

“It’s obviously a competition, so I’m trying to put my best foot forward every day and do the best I can,” O’Connell said.

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

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