Raiders’ reserves step up in big win over 49ers

Aidan O'Connell was throwing, Zamir White and Sincere McCormick were running and the Raiders' defense was stout in a 34-7 preseason win over the 49ers Sunday.

LAS VEGAS — If I’ve learned anything in spending 60-plus years of my life watching football it’s this: Never put too much stock in what you see in the preseason.

Don’t proclaim a team as Super Bowl contenders just because they win. Don’t anoint them the owners of the No. 1 overall draft pick next April if they lost. 

So you look for things that matter when the games actually count next month. But sometimes that’s hard to do when you realize the key components are not playing.

And so it was Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Normally, the Raiders playing the 49ers would be a spirited affair, given the long history of when they both vied for the affection of Bay Area football fans. But the Raiders ceded that territory to the Niners and now have Southern Nevada as their base.

But it wouldn’t have mattered who the Raiders played Sunday. This was a day not to tip your hand. And coach Josh McDaniels did just that Friday when he said that several of the starters got their reps in during the two days of joint practices with the 49ers.

That meant no Jimmy Garoppolo. No Davante Adams or Hunter Renfrow. Still no sign of Josh Jacobs. 

But on Aug. 13, that’s fine. Now if they’re not available come Sept. 10, that’s another story.

The 49ers sat a bunch of their starters too. But they were unable to match the Raiders as the hosts looked impressive in posting a 34-7 win in front of 61,985.

So Sunday was about auditioning. For Adam Plant, for Nesta Jade Silvera and Sincere McCormick, this was their chance to show they can stick around with the Raiders, or, at the very least, prove they are good enough to play for someone in the NFL rather than wind up in the USFL or XFL.

It was also an audition for Zamir White. The second-year running back from Georgia needs to show McDaniels that he is capable of being the Raiders’ starting running back. For who knows where things with Jacobs are going to go? And even if he does eventually sign a one-year deal and return to the Silver and Black, you still need depth at the position.

White had 13 rushes for 43 yards and scored the Raiders’ first touchdown on a one-yard run in the first quarter. His longest run was nine yards and he averaged 3.3 yards per carry.

Flashy? Nah. Solid? Hell yes.

“My thought process was to just go in there and play hard and run hard and be a great teammate,” White said. “My linemen are crazy, blocking for me. They make it easy.” 

And while we can expect White to suit up regardless of whether or not Jacobs returns, the jury is still out on someone like Plant, the former UNLV star who is trying to make this team as a free agent edge rusher. He didn’t embarrass himself, pursuing the ball carrier, making sound decisions and getting a pair of tackles. Silvera, a seventh-round pick from Arizona State who is trying to make the team as a defensive tackle, also had two tackles Sunday.

“It was a blessing being able to be in my hometown for my hometown team and be part of it,” Plant said. “I was glad to be a part of it.”

Plant admitted it’s a faster game at this level but he seemed to handle the adjustment fine.

“I thought I did some good things out there and some things that I probably need to correct but I thought I was able to get a hold of (the speed) the game.”

Of course, all eyes were on Aidan O’Connell, the fourth-round pick out of Purdue who led the Big Ten in passing yards last season. His NFL debut was excellent — 15-of-18 passing for 141 yards, a TD, one sack and a QB rating of 117.8. He looked poised in running the offense and when he came to the sidelines, there to greet him were the 31-year-old Garoppolo and 37-year-old Brian Hoyer, two of the league’s most experienced quarterbacks to lend some advice.

People may have questioned the Raiders’ decision to draft O’Connell, but GM Dave Ziegler may get the last laugh. The kid appears comfortable playing at this level and if he keeps moving in the right direction, he can be valuable insurance should Garoppolo and Hoyer succumb to injuries. 

Sincere McCormick, who scored twice and had nine carries for 27 yards, said he was trying to be aggressive.

“I try to play with enthusiasm every snap,” said McCormick, who ran for one score and caught a two-yard pass for the other TD. “I’m just trying to go in there with the mindset of attacking whenever I touch the ball.”

McCormick, who tore his ACL last year after signing as an undrafted free agent from Texas-San Antonio and missed the 2022 season, said he has plenty of determination to make up for lost time.

“Everyone knows my history,” he said. “I’m trying to make a statement.” 

What we’re seeing from this team is a ton of motivation. The competition from within on both sides of the ball every day in training camp appears to have carried over to the preseason. And with just three games this year, you better make your opportunities count when and if they materialize.

A 30-point win is never a bad thing. But perspective is more important. And this was not the Raiders team we expect to see come Sept. 10. Still, what we may be seeing is a team with more talent and depth than in the past and that should be cause for optimism going forward.