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Gordon: Raiders rookie QB gives near-flawless preseason effort

The accuracy. The arm strength. The poise. The precision.

If an NFL quarterback needs it, then the Raiders’ Aidan O’Connell unveiled it Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.

“I went out there pretty excited,” said the rookie, a fourth-round pick in April after six seasons at Purdue. “Running out in an NFL jersey is when a lot of the jitters went away, just to be out there and hear the crowd yell and everything like that.”

O’Connell was even better than his statistics would suggest in their preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, completing 15 of 18 attempts for 141 yards, a touchdown and a quarterback rating of 117.8 in their 34-7 victory.

No interceptions, fumbles, dumb decisions or errant throws.

A flawless preseason debut if ever there was one in the inherently imperfect sport of professional football.

“A lot of firsts today for him,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “First play call. First (time) feeling pressure in the pocket. First two-minute drive. First halftime … he generally handled himself well for the first opportunity.”

An impeccable outing

O’Connell didn’t play against San Francisco’s first-team defense, but his first pass doubled as his first completion: a 15-yarder to fellow rookie Tre Tucker — extending the first touchdown drive of his career.

He took his first sack. Didn’t take a second.

Threw his first touchdown — to Keelan Cole — to cap his first two-minute drill.

Said O’Connell in the locker room atop his first postgame scrum with an assortment of reporters: “Definitely some things to work on still, but it was fun to be out there, live action — and bullets really flying. … Even when you practice against another team, they can’t tackle you in practice, and they can now. Just added to the level of — the juice was a little more. So it’s a lot of fun to be out there.”

Of O’Connell’s three incompletions, two were passes dropped, including his best throw of the game — a feathery 34-yarder that Tucker couldn’t quite complete despite a diving effort down the left sideline.

Not one to fret, O’Connell completed four straight passes on the ensuing drive, finding Cole uncovered for a 9-yard score with 34 seconds to play in the first half.

His debut would end after three quarters and with a 24-7 lead he helped engineer.

“You kind of hope to go out there and do your best and see what happens,” said O’Connell, who turns 25 on Sept. 1, though his light mustache suggests instead that he’s still 17.

“I’m not worried about the stats. There’s more things than the stats, especially responsibility in the run game and stuff like that, that I need to improve on. I know I have a lot I need to improve on, so I know I’ve got a lot of work to go still.”

Becoming the backup?

For that remains the rest of training camp, plus two more preseason games during which O’Connell should handle the majority of snaps.

Starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was a bystander Sunday and should remain one until the regular season begins. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer — whom O’Connell should soon usurp for the sake of his development, if nothing else — didn’t play a snap, either, fulfilling the plan McDaniels had in place when joint practices with San Francisco began.

As McDaniels explained afterward, he tried “to get (Garoppolo and Hoyer) a lot of work in practice against some guys that probably weren’t going to play on their side of the ball also in the game, then let Aidan have an opportunity to experience this for the first time.”

Added tight end Cole Fotheringham, the recipient of five catches for a team-high 71 yards: “He led the offense well and delivered a good ball.”

The accuracy. The arm strength. The poise. The precision.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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