O'Connell and Minshew wage friendly competition to become the Raiders' starting quarterback

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) and quarterback Aidan O'Connell watch during an NFL football practice Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)


HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Easygoing Gardner Minshew never seems to get stressed out about anything. Aidan O’Connell said he has enjoyed getting to know and work with his new teammate.

Who’s also his competitor.

Both want the same thing — to become the starting quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders — but they don’t appear ready to tear each other down to get there. They communicate in the quarterback room and on the practice field for organized team activities, trying to help each other get better.

“The better he is, if I’m beating him out, that means I’m just raising it that much more,” Minshew said. “So that’s kind of how I’ve always viewed it. If he’s pushing me and he’s completing every pass, I’ve got to figure out a way to do better. I think that’s the only way to really ever improve.”

The Raiders need one of those quarterbacks to emerge as the starter and help the team beat low preseason expectations in which Las Vegas’ win total at BetMGM Sportsbook is 6 1/2 games.

On an offense with a strong receiving group led by Davante Adams, two young tight ends in Michael Mayer and Brock Bowers with tremendous upside and a promising running back in Zamir White, quarterback is considered the weak spot.

The Raiders, who picked 13th overall this year, didn’t draft a quarterback while watching six QBs go in the first 12 selections. They signed Minshew to a two-year free-agent contract before the draft, setting up the competition with O’Connell.

“This is a long process,” first-year offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “We’re at the beginning stages of it. Everyone is trying to get a grasp of what we’re trying to accomplish, not just the QBs, but everybody.”

Going back to his days as a walk-on at Purdue, O’Connell is used to fighting for playing time. He became a record-setting starter his final two seasons and then was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft.

Jimmy Garoppolo opened last season as the starter, but after coach Josh McDaniels was fired at midseason, one of Antonio Pierce’s first acts upon becoming the interim coach was to name O’Connell the starter.

O’Connell went 5-4 after that and threw eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the final four games.

That wasn’t enough, however, to guarantee him the starting job, which O’Connell brushed off as the reality of playing in the NFL. Pierce said O’Connell would take the first practice snaps, though he and Minshew are sharing repetitions with the starting offense.

“It’s a new offense, so it’s a little bit like starting over,” O’Connell said. “But at the same time, it is my now second year in the NFL. I think all the extra rookie stuff I don’t have to do anymore is really a weight off my shoulders.”

O’Connell showed his commitment to trying to win the job by mostly staying in Las Vegas after the season and becoming a regular visitor to the team facility.

“Me and my wife are both from the Midwest, so I think a big part of it was we didn’t want to go back to the cold,” O’Connell said. “We just wanted to stay in Vegas, but obviously just to be here with our strength coaches in our facility with the resources we have is awesome.”

He will remain in town to endure the city’s triple-digit temperatures after minicamp next week.

Minshew’s most recent stop also was in the Midwest, following a similar script last season with the Colts that O’Connell did with the Raiders.

Indianapolis signed Minshew, who previously showed flashes off the bench in Jacksonville and Philadelphia, to come in and provide veteran support to rookie Anthony Richardson. But when Richardson, the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2023 out of Florida, injured his shoulder four games into the season, Minshew got another chance to play.

He went 7-6 as the starter, passing for 3,305 yards and 15 touchdowns with nine interceptions. But with Richardson coming back for this season, Minshew moved on to Las Vegas with the hope of winning the starting job.

“As soon as I walked in this building, the first day that I signed, you can just feel (the energy) 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. I think if everybody’s on the same page, we will be able to get it done.”

Whether that will be Minshew or O’Connell leading the way likely will be determined well into training camp.

It’s a friendly competition. But still a competition that both want to win.

“Our stories are kind of both underdog stories and having to work to get to the point where we’re at,” O’Connell said.


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