Aidan O'Connell, Gardner Minshew talk Raiders QB competition

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 5, 2024

HENDERSON, Nev. -- While it's true that second-year pro Aidan O'Connell has been taking the first-team snaps in the Las Vegas Raiders' voluntary OTAs, the quarterback competition between O'Connell and vagabond veteran Gardner Minshew is far from over.

Not with mandatory minicamp next week and training camp on the horizon.

And both QBs are enjoying an offseason program that is more mutual admiration society than intense competition. Because as O'Connell himself said, there's a certain familiarity between the two.

"Our stories are kind of both underdog stories," O'Connell said Tuesday, "and having to work to get to the point where we're at."

Said Minshew: "As any real competitor, you don't want them to be worse; you want yourself to be better. So, the better he is, if I'm beating him out, that means I'm just raising it that much more. ... If he's pushing me and he's completing every pass, I've got to figure out a way to do better.

"He's a team guy; I'm a team guy. We both want to win. We both want to get better. So, I mean, there's really not much conflict of interest there."

Fair enough. But this much is true: In the three OTA practices open to the media, O'Connell has looked more comfortable and more precise in his passing, while Minshew, as advertised, has been more mobile.

"It is a change because 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. And so, yeah, definitely feeling more comfortable ... it's obviously a competition, so [I'm] trying to put my best foot forward every day."

Especially when O'Connell was threading needles in finding tight ends in the end zone during red zone drills and Minshew was buying time rolling out before hitting running backs in the flat.

Yes, even as a new scheme is being installed under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and the players are running around in helmets and shorts.

The QB competition will truly ramp up in training camp. But until then ...

"Gardner's a great guy and ... what you see is what you get and he's been awesome with me," O'Connell said. "I think we do a good job of communicating with each other with what we're seeing, what we're thinking on each play.

"We are both trying to learn this offense at the same time together and, also at the same time we are both the leaders of the offense. ... We want to make sure the offense is running smoothly and we're executing. So it's been a fun competition."

O'Connell, the last pick of the fourth round in the 2023 NFL draft, was the eighth QB selected and was not expected to see much playing time last season, with the Raiders signing Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason.

But after Garoppolo was slowed and eventually felled by injuries -- foot, concussion, back -- and ineffectiveness, he was benched by then-interim coach Antonio Pierce in favor of O'Connell. The rookie passed for 2,218 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 11 games, 10 of them starts. He completed 62.1% of his throws and went 5-5 as a starter but closed out strong, throwing eight TD passes without an interception in the Raiders' final four games as Las Vegas went 3-1.

The only game O'Connell and the Raiders lost in that stretch was to Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts.

"He's super smart and he's super accurate," Minshew said of O'Connell. "As a young guy, he really understands football, understand his progressions, timing, and man, it's fun to watch him interact with the guys. He has a ton of energy and it's just a lot of fun to be around."

Meanwhile, the Raiders are Minshew's third team in the past three years. He has passed for 9,937 yards and 59 TDs with 37 INTs while completing 62.6% of his passes in his five-year career, in which he has compiled a 15-22 record as a starter.

"In this sport, only one quarterback can play," O'Connell said. "We've both been around long enough and we both had to compete, really, our whole lives, and so I don't think it's really anything new for either of us."