As receiver Davante Adams made his way back to the Raiders’ locker room after talking to the media Wednesday, he passed rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell in a hallway. O’Connell was on his way to do his weekly media session.
“You heading to the podium?” Adams asked.
“Yup,” O’Connell said, before quipping: “I’ve got a pretty easy act to follow.”
Adams let out a noticeable laugh, then added a knowing nod as if to say, “See, that’s what I’m talking about.”
Just a few minutes before, Adams was pointing out how O’Connell is growing increasingly comfortable in his role as the starting quarterback and in his place in the locker room. That includes being a much more outgoing young player, unafraid to take part in the good-natured trash talking normally reserved for more experienced players.
It’s another sign of O’Connell’s growing confidence on and off the field. It could also be a precursor to his game loosening up.
Two weeks and two wins into his role as the starter, O’Connell has been more of a game manager than a responsibility bearer. That could change Sunday when the Raiders travel to Miami to play a Dolphins team whose offensive prowess might mean the Raiders have to open up the playbook a little more for O’Connell.
The Dolphins are averaging a league-leading 31.7 points per game. They are particularly potent at home, averaging 43.5 points per game. The Raiders are averaging 17.2 points per game.
Conventional wisdom suggests nothing less than 27 points will be enough to win Sunday.
“Yeah, we’re getting our track shoes on,” Raiders coach Antonio Pierce said. “That’s the kind of game it’s going to be — explosive.”
Will O’Connell be able to flourish in a game like that? There is some building evidence he is ready to put more on his shoulders.
A month ago, O’Connell never would have joked with an established player like Adams the way he did. Adams, ever the observer, has been keeping track.
“It’s always funny coming in, and you see the young guys come in, and they come and play with me, whether it’s D-lineman or whatever, they always look a little different at me when they’re walking through the hallways,” Adams said. “And he’d been like that for a while.”
That is no longer the case. Adams discovered as much earlier in the day when he was checking himself in the mirror, and O’Connell had a nice little dig for him as he strolled by.
“I was making sure I didn’t have nothing on my face, and he’s walking by talking, saying that I don’t look good in the mirror,” said Adams.
The veteran loved it.
“Stuff like that is where you start to take the next steps in your friendship to allow you to have a better connection on the field,” Adams said.
It’s been a process for O’Connell. Understandably so. On one hand, there is a normal hierarchy in NFL locker rooms that rookie players have to respect. On the other, the starting quarterback needs to be the leader that the job title requires.
It helps that Adams, the Raiders’ highest-paid and most respected player, along with defensive end Maxx Crosby, has given O’Connell the green light to be himself.
O’Connell appreciates that about Adams.
“He’s down to earth, and I obviously watched him a lot growing up,” O’Connell said. “It’s cool to form that friendship a little bit. I got to make fun of him a little bit, and he’s obviously a very good player. I guess my job is to bring him back down to earth a couple of times, even if that’s not my job. But, no, he’s just a great guy.
“He was one of the early guys to welcome me in to make me feel welcome here, so he’s been a huge part of my development.”
Who: Raiders at Dolphins
When: 10 a.m. Sunday
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Dolphins -13½; total 47