LOS ANGELES – The Raiders got a glimpse of life without Derek Carr on Saturday.
It wasn’t pretty.
Oakland's starting quarterback was a healthy scratch, and backups Connor Cook and EJ Manuel struggled most of the time in a 19-15 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Both made some positive plays, but each one lost a fumble in Raiders territory, missed some throws, and failed to consistently move the football.
The first half was atrocious, with one first down in seven series. Each quarterback played six series in this one, and didn’t get much help. The offensive line was porous – it allowed four sacks – and receivers dropped some passes, but the quarterbacks weren’t on target like they should be.
They surely didn’t live up to Jon Gruden’s standard for quarterback play.
“I thought EJ did some good things. I thought Connor did a couple good things,” Gruden said. “But … you know, fumbling the snap in the two-minute drill, turning the football over - those are things you can’t do as a backup quarterback. You got to come in and prove you can play mistake-free football in the short-term. And so far we have, I think, fumbled two snaps in two weeks inside the 5(-yard line), and it troubles me greatly. But we’ll look at the film and see. I mean, a lot of backup linemen, backup receivers, and backup running backs - and when you have a backup quarterback that hasn’t had all the work either it’s a very tough day at the office.”
Playing backup quarterback can be tough. They are generally thrust into adverse situations without getting much time to prepare. Carr takes most every practice snap during the regular season, so the reserve(s) don’t have much opportunity to develop or get physically involved in the game plan. That puts strain on those guys, but Gruden doesn’t want to miss a beat with a backup quarterback in the game.
There’s a wide chasm between Carr and the others, and the Raiders must figure out who will be his primary reserve for the regular season. Cook and Manuel didn’t separate themselves after subpar showings.
Cook has been the No. 2 in training camp. He played well in the exhibition opener against Detroit, but followed that with an uneven practice week and a lackluster showing against the Rams where he wasn’t able to establish an offensive rhythm.
“It’s our job to get into a rhythm,” Cook said. “You can’t make excuses, you can’t do anything like that. It’s our job to get the guys going, to set the tone in the huddle, and to get the offense into a groove. It’s our job to do that.”
Manuel hasn’t been as good this preseason as his last, when he easily won the backup job. The former first-round pick has a cannon arm and can be effective upon finding good rhythm, but that hasn’t happened much lately. He has struggled with ball security in practice and games, a new and unsettling trend for him this summer.
“We can be much better,” Manuel said. “I know on my part I need to have better ball security, getting around the pocket. Had to get relaxed with ball in my left hand and it slipped out, obviously don’t want to turn the ball over -- especially being down in their territory. There was just some throws, but you know that’s what happens in games. Besides that, I would just say I know things can be better I know I can be better."
Cook is younger and could be developed by a coaching staff well known for fostering talent. Moving up from the No. 3 spot, where he has been the last two seasons, would help achieve that goal.
The Raiders hope Cook and Manuel don’t play a lick this regular season. But Carr has gotten hurt each of the last two years, so having a quality reserve is essential.
Gruden must choose one – or acquire another – over the next few weeks. Carr should play extensive snaps in next week’s exhibition against Green Bay, so Saturday was a golden opportunity to step up in a competitive position battle. Neither guy took a leap forward on a lackluster Saturday in Los Angeles.