Connor Cook playing catch-up, Raiders won't overwhelm the rookie QB

Connor Cook playing catch-up, Raiders won't overwhelm the rookie QB

ALAMEDA – Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr said he takes 99.9 percent of all practice snaps. He thought about making it an even 100, but wanted to give himself some margin for error.

“Once we break training camp, I’m taking 99.9 percent of them because that’s what I feel I need to prepare to play the game,” Carr said during his weekly appearance on 95.7-FM. “I say (99.9) because I don’t remember not taking a rep, (but I might’ve) so I don’t want to lie.”

Backup Matt McGloin took most remaining snaps. That doesn’t leave much for fourth-round rookie Connor Cook, a developmental prospect never expected to see the field this season.

Carr should’ve taken every game snap this season, and is tough enough to do so. He played through a dislocated and apparently fractured right pinky. He couldn’t play through a broken fibula, which called McGloin into action. Then ineffectiveness and a sore shoulder threw McGloin on the shelf and Cook into the fire against Denver.

“I thought that Connor played with great poise,” Carr said. “…I told Connor, ‘you’re going to make mistakes. You’re a rookie. So just go out and play with confidence.’ I thought he did that, and that he did a good job.”

He did well enough to earn a start in Saturday’s playoff opener at Houston. Much has been written about his poise and physical tools. Those traits are only showcased after proper prep.

Finding the right volume is key this week.

The Raiders won’t engage in a nonstop cram session prior to playing the Texans. Head coach Jack Del Rio jokingly confirmed that Cook is allowed to leave the team facility, and doesn’t have to set up a tent on the practice field.

Coaches will prep hard, but don’t want to overwhelm.

“We’ll do the best we can to prepare him,” Del Rio said. “The great thing about it is he’s been here, been in our system, mentally been engaged in what we do and how we do it all year. I’m sure he’ll lean on the majority of that.

“There’s only so much you can catch up all at once. At the end of the day, you don’t try and have him go around the clock here. He wouldn’t be at his best. We’ll manage the process of preparing him and giving him what he needs. We’ll get ourselves ready to go play.”

The Raiders are making the best of an adverse situation.

Raiders left tackle Donald Penn said he hadn’t heard Cook’s voice in a huddle before last week. Cook said he hadn’t thrown to Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree much outside of “routes on air” in individual drills.

That’s normal for No. 3 quarterbacks in the NFL, who are rarely active on game day. The goal is to prepare guys in practice who are going to play. Giving an unquestioned starter like Carr maximum reps is common, with backups rarely getting physical work.

When Cook said last week he was running plays he hadn’t practiced against Denver, he wasn’t making excuses. He was merely stating facts.

He had seen them on film and knows what checks and reads to make, even without much practice time.

He’ll benefit from a week’s worth of first team work and take as much as possible from it.

“It should be good to get as many reps as possible in practice and some on the side not during team periods,” Cook said. “Getting more and more reps will help. I’m looking forward to that.”

There are some challenges getting a backup ready to go at a moment’s notice, especially for a do-or-die game, but coaches try to prep for that each day. Cook proved to be a willing student.

“I demand out of all the quarterbacks that they know the game plan,” quarterbacks coach Todd Downing said last week, before McGloin’s start. “That goes for Connor as well. Now Connor doesn’t many reps during the practice week and hasn’t had much time in the first-team huddle, but Connor is a student of the game and has done a great job learning our system. I don’t anticipate any learning curve for him … because he has prepared as the starter all along.”

Cook is the starter now, and walks into a difficult situation determined to embrace the moment.

“I’m going to go out there,” Cook said, “let it all hang out and have fun with my teammates.”

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”

Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini


Raiders sign tackle Breno Giacomini

The Raiders need help at right tackle, the lone vacancy along their offensive line. They signed a veteran presence on Thursday afternoon, adding 32-year old Breno Giacomini as the frontrunner to join the starting five.

He has 86 starts in 94 career games, and has been a full-time starter three of the last four years. Giacomini spent 2017 in Houston and the previous three seasons with the New York Jets.

He was a Seattle Seahawk before that, working with Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable for three of his four years there. Cable gave Giacomini his first chance to start in the second half of 2011, and held the post through 2012.

The bond between the two is clearly strong, considering what Giacomini tweeted shortly after Cable got fired in Seattle.

Coach and player will reunite, hoping to provide steadiness on the right side of the Raiders offensive line.

He’ll compete for a starting spot with Vadal Alexander, second-year pros David Sharpe and Jylan Ware and possibly a drafted player. Giacomini should be considered the favorite unless the Raiders use an early pick on an offensive lineman.

Giacomini has plenty of starts, but his Pro Football Focus numbers aren’t pretty. The analytics says he allowed nine sacks, eight quarterback hits and 64 pressures with Houston last year. He had some decent years under Cable, and a return to that form might push him into the starting lineup for good. Time will tell on that front.