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Graney: Raiders’ QB plays nice, but yearns to be team’s starter

Gardner Minshew said all the right things.

How strong a relationship he already has with Aidan O’Connell. How well the two quarterbacks work with each other. How much they support one another. How everything is defined by a positive vibe.

It might all be true.

But know this: Minshew is trying like heck to be the Raiders’ starter when the season opens.

I mean, this is still a competition, right?

The mutual admiration society aside, Minshew and O’Connell are in a battle to see which takes the first snap Sept. 8 against the Chargers. They’re different in how they approach the job. They’re different in how they play. They’re different enough to make the whole thing quite interesting.

There might not be a similar battle across the NFL right now.

Raiders coach Antonio Pierce has intimated O’Connell — who started 10 games last season as a rookie — is No. 1 until proven otherwise. Until someone beats him out. If so, that someone would be Minshew.

But it’s likely a razor-thin margin. It could be a while before anyone emerges as the top choice.

All about ball

Minshew signed a two-year, $25 million deal with the Raiders with $15 million guaranteed in March. Forget for a second the free-spirited, eccentric guy who once spent his offseason living in a refurbished prison bus.

He seems all about ball. All about learning new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system. All about putting his best effort out there each play.

Minshew, a 2019 sixth-round pick by Jacksonville, is also on his fourth team in six years. He isn’t all that big (6-foot-1), doesn’t run all that fast and doesn’t own the strongest arm. But metrics don’t always gauge the player. And in the case of Minshew, he has always been one of the hardest workers in the room. Always been prepared.

“Obviously, not every day is perfect. There’s been some ups and downs, but I think more ups than downs,” Minshew said. “And we’re playing against a good (defense) across the ball. It is doing some great stuff, really challenging us.

“I think you kind of learn (an offense) how you learn best. For me, it’s a lot of voice recordings, hearing the play and walking through. Drawing it up doesn’t do as much for me personally. I think just figuring out what works for you and then implementing that as much as you need to.”

Pierce said before the draft, before he knew if selecting a quarterback of the Raiders’ liking would be possible (it wasn’t), he didn’t want a Band-Aid at quarterback. A short-term answer. A bridge player.

But that’s what Minshew would most likely prove to be. And yet he is still a veteran who started 13 games for the Colts last season and threw for a career-high 3,305 yards. It earned him his first Pro Bowl nod.

You have to draw the line somewhere between really liking the other guy and embracing the fight. Between friendship and doing whatever possible to win the job.

That’s where Minshew and O’Connell exist. But there has to be some some grit to this, some moxie from both. You want whoever wins the job to grab it, not just take it.

Neither was considered a can’t-miss player at any level. This is nothing new for them.

Just be better

“I think as any real competitor, you don’t want them to be worse. You want yourself to be better,” Minshew said. “The better he is, if I’m beating him out, that means I’m just raising it that much more.

“That’s kind of how I’ve always viewed it. If he’s pushing me and he’s completing every pass, I got to figure out a way to do better. I think that’s the only way to really ever improve.”

Yeah. It’s still a competition.

No matter how nice these guys are to each other.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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