Quarterback competition heats up Raiders OTAs

DJ Cabanlong-The Sporting Tribune
Aidan O'Connell and Gardner Minshew are embroiled in arguably the biggest quarterback competition in the NFL this offseason.

HENDERSON, Nevada — The NFL season might be three months away, but there is plenty of competition at the Las Vegas Raiders facility.

In arguably the biggest quarterback competition in the NFL, Aidan O’Connell and Gardner Minshew were nothing short of praise for one another after Tuesday’s session in the sweltering heat.

Compliments aside, QB1 is up for grabs and they both understand what’s at stake.

“I think that’s not unique to us,” O’Connell said. “I think that’s in any position really, but especially in this sport, there’s only one quarterback in play.

“And so, I think we’ve both been around long enough and we’ve both had to compete really our whole lives, so I don’t think it’s really anything new for either of us.”

O’Connell looked impressive during Tuesday’s organized team activities, directing the offense efficiently on several drives. During one sequence, he completed four straight touchdown passes in red-zone drills.

The Raiders snagged O’Connell in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft and he took over as starter when coach Antonio Pierce stepped in after former coach Josh McDaniels was fired midseason last year. O’Connell, who played in 11 games and finished 5-5 as a starter, completed 62.1% of his passes (213 of 343) for 2,218 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Minshew brings competition

But it wasn’t enough for Pierce to hand him the keys to the offense, so the Raiders added Minshew in free agency, signing the journeyman to a two-year, $25 million deal with $15 million guaranteed. While he’s turned in quality performances, he’s perfected his role of a backup more than he has a starter.

To his credit, Minshew stepped in last season when Anthony Richardson was lost to a season-ending injury, led the Indianapolis Colts to a 9-8 record and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Minshew finished 2023 by completing 62.2% of his passes for 3,305 yards and 15 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Both bring sellable attributes to a Las Vegas offense that can use a play manager trying to learn new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s system while providing efficiency that’s lacked the past several years. Most importantly, their job is protecting the ball and avoiding turning it over.

“I think we both put together a good camp so far, man, been pushing each other,” Minshew said Tuesday. “But also, just enjoying each other, enjoying our room.

“We got an awesome room not only with Aidan, but with Anthony (Brown Jr.) and Carter (Bradley). We’re having a ton of fun right now being very competitive and I think that’s only going to make our team better.”

Added O’Connell: “We’re trying to be consistent, just like we want to be in a game. But it’s been fun to see the progression of our offense.”

Chemistry returns

Chemistry has been problematic in the past, especially during the last two seasons when players were outspoken about a toxic environment under McDaniels. But with Pierce taking a bit more of a laid-back approach – being less of a micro-manager – it’s made coming to work much better.

It’s also set the tone for the quarterback’s room, regardless of who’s named starter.

“It’s the guys, the energy – as soon as I walked in this building, the first day that I signed, you can just feel it from the defense, offense, coaches,” Minshew said. “Everybody feels like they’re pulling in the same direction and wants to get this thing going the right way.

“And I think if everybody’s on the same page, we will be able to get it done.”

O’Connell said from the minute Minshew arrived the two have built a strong relationship and have been able to lean on one another.

“I think it’s been awesome,” O’Connell said. “Gardner is a great guy and he’s really what you see is what you get, and he’s been awesome with me.

“I think we do a good job of communicating with each other of what we’re seeing, what we’re thinking on each play. …. We want to make sure when we go out to practices, it’s a good practice. So, we want to make sure the offense is running smoothly and we’re executing. It’s been a fun competition.”

The Raiders will hold their mandatory mini-camp from June 11-13. They head to Costa Mesa, Calif., in July to open training camp ahead of their preseason opener at Minnesota on Aug. 10.