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Graney: Raiders quarterback needs to be better to earn No. 1 role

It’s nothing new for Aidan O’Connell, the fact he’ll have to fight and scratch and claw and compete for every snap of a football he receives this coming season.

He should have to.

He might have started 10 games for the Raiders as a rookie in 2023 but such experience will only take a guy so far. And in the case of O’Connell, the team needs better play at football’s most important position.

Everyone understands this. The Raiders were 8-9 and missed the playoffs. Not much of anything was good enough. But it’s at quarterback — for good reason — where eyes wander first.

You can’t talk NFL draft and not hear predictions about what the Raiders might do with the 13th overall selection. And many such scenarios have them choosing a quarterback at their current spot or even higher up after a trade.

It’s obvious coach Antonio Pierce wants more competition in the room.

Here comes Gardner

Much of said competition will come from Gardner Minshew, who signed as a free agent in March. The Raiders didn’t give him a two-year deal worth $25 million — $15 million of which is guaranteed — because of his quirky personality.

Minshew went 7-6 as a starter for the Colts last season and made the Pro Bowl. He’s certainly not coming in with thoughts of sitting.

So it goes that O’Connell isn’t assured anything when it comes to playing time. He may be listed as the starter entering training camp, but that means little in the battle for the top spot.

So it goes that things become like every other level of football he has played. He was once a walk-on and eighth string at Purdue. I didn’t even know teams had eight quarterbacks.

“Yeah, I think especially at this level, and I thought the same thing at Purdue, but especially at this level, there’s going to be competition,” O’Connell said. “I mean, it’s the best of the best. And so the coaches and administration want to bring in the best players possible to try to make the team better. And the best guys are going to play, and so I’m just trying to do my job.

“I’m definitely not used to just being the guy going into the season. So, I definitely think it’s probably more foreign for that to happen just based on the years of me playing football. It’d be more foreign to me being the unquestioned starter rather than competing.”

O’Connell completed 62 percent of his passes last season for 2,218 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He showed flashes one minute and a whole lot of room for growth another.

He also threw eight touchdowns and no interceptions his final four games.

Pierce’s first order of business is likely figuring out who best fits under center. He has said O’Connell, 25, deserves to be listed No. 1 on a depth chart at this point. He also wants him to be more vocal.

No church mouse

“You don’t want the quarterback being a church mouse,” Pierce said. “I don’t need him being a rah-rah guy, either. But when things are wrong, I need him to fix it.”

O’Connell will fight and scratch and claw and compete for very snap. It’s the only way he knows.

And he should.

The Raiders need to be better at quarterback, no matter who ultimately wins the job. It’s where the eyes wander first.

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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