NAPA, Calif. — Let’s dispense with the particulars:
Connor Cook grew up in Ohio, attended Michigan State and is the only quarterback in NFL history whose first career pro start came in a playoff game.
EJ Manuel was a first-round pick of the Bills in 2013, hails from Virginia Beach, played at Florida State and has made 17 professional starts.
Both seem like good dudes.
And yet a foremost hope of the Raiders is that once the season opens at Tennessee on Sept. 10, neither name is mentioned again — sans during the occasional blowout win or loss.
It’s OK for them to be seen on the sidelines, but no one wants them heard in a huddle when things are close.
Nothing personal. It’s a standard conclusion by NFL teams with a franchise quarterback and a five-year, $125 million contract extension to support him.
“Everyone knows who the starter is — nobody is worried about that,” said quarterbacks coach Jake Peetz. “We’re lucky to have one Derek Carr, and we aren’t looking for a second. We’re just looking to maximize EJ and Connor so that if the times comes, whoever it is can do the job and make sure the transition is as tight as possible.”
It was all kinds of loose last year, and more than anything alerted the Raiders how quickly things can go from dandy to disastrous.
Seemingly on their way to an AFC West title and hosting a divisional-round playoff game, everything changed in Week 16 when left tackle Donald Penn was beaten around the edge and Trent Cole of the Colts grabbed Carr’s leg while pulling him down for a sack.
The hit resulted in a broken fibula for Carr and sent in motion a situation at quarterback that reiterated the importance of needing quality play from a backup (or two).
Matt McGloin (now trying to make the Eagles roster as a No. 3) would replace Carr and get injured the following week at Denver.
The Raiders then started a rookie in Cook at Houston in the wild-card round, and the result — a 27-14 loss in which Cook completed just 18 of 45 for 161 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions against the league’s best defense — was as predictable as the next J.J. Watt insurance commercial.
So it goes that one of the major unanswered questions of training camp at the Napa Marriott is who between Manuel and Cook will earn the No. 2 job and which will likely either be sent packing or spend regular-season games listed as inactive.
This much is certain: Both have had issues with accuracy and decision-making, and yet both will get significant minutes during four preseason games.
Something to prove
Buffalo selected Manuel with the 16th overall pick, but he went just 6-11 as a starter over four seasons and has a career quarterback rating of 77.5. Things were never the same for him upon being benched in his second season in favor of Kyle Orton following a 2-2 start. Manuel’s confidence was shot, but this might be a chance to reset his career.
He looks to be the favorite early in camp to win the job as Carr’s backup, and the fact his offensive coordinator (Todd Downing) was quarterbacks coach in Buffalo during Manuel’s second season brings a sense of familiarity to the process.
“Derek is our quarterback,” Manuel said. “This is his show. However, I can help and assist him, that’s what I’m here to do. You can’t take anything for granted, man. This is a cutthroat league, and when you get opportunities, you’ve got to show what you can do and take advantage of it.”
Something to prove II
Cook has this going for him: The Raiders took him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, and teams usually give their own selections as much opportunity as possible to prove themselves.
But he needs to be a whole lot better and more efficient than he was in that playoff start at Houston.
“Obviously, none of us wanted to see Derek get hurt, but you’re a competitor and want to play,” Cook said. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, even though it didn’t turn out how we wanted. The NFL isn’t easy. Whether it’s draft picks or free agents, you’re always going to be competing. I’m better now than I was a year ago. I’m more comfortable with everything.”
There you have it. Two good dudes battling it out to see which one holds a clipboard and which one heads elsewhere or stands on the sidelines wearing sweats.
The guess here is that Manuel wins the No. 2 job.
And that once he does, the last thing anyone with the Raiders wants to see when the season kicks off is him in a huddle unless the score is out of hand.
That’s just the truth of it for a team with a franchise quarterback.
And the contract to match.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
Life of a backup
EJ Manuel and Connor Cook are competing for the No. 2 quarterback role to Derek Carr with the Raiders.
— Manuel: Fifth season, 28 games, 17 starts, 3,502 passing yards, 58.3 percent completions, 19 TDs, 15 interceptions.
— Cook: Second season, two games, one start (playoff game), 311 yards, 48 percent completions, two TDs, four interceptions.