Connor Cook shines in Raiders' preseason opener win over Lions


Connor Cook shines in Raiders' preseason opener win over Lions


OAKLAND – Names you know well weren’t spoken much in Friday night’s preseason opener versus Detroit.

Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Marshawn Lynch and most offensive starters played a single series. Bruce Irvin, Rashaan Melvin and the defensive first unit hung around for two.

This game was for the backups. It always is.

Carr’s backup is an important position. It has to be someone the Raiders never play, yet can be competent in a pinch.

That battle was an even race when training camp started. Connor Cook may have a leg up after Friday night’s 16-10 win at Oakland Coliseum.

The Michigan State alum might’ve played his best football as a Raider – in fairness, there isn’t a huge sample size – completing 11-of-19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown on three scoring drives.

He was efficient relieving Carr after the first series, and was pulled after the opening half. Cook hit a lull on one drive, but finished strong with a run of completions to set up Eddy Piñeiro’s 48-yard field goal.

His touchdown drive was particularly impressive. Cook bought time with his feet twice in the series, hitting tight end Paul Butler for 24 yards and Ryan Switzer for the seven-yard touchdown.

“He did some good things,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said in a halftime interview. “There’s still a couple things decision-wise I think he’s got to correct, but he moved the football, he put points on the board, and I liked his two-minute drill at the end of the half.”

Cook’s game performance backed up a strong start to training camp – he hasn’t thrown an interception in practice -- where he showed improvement in accuracy and decision-making, troublesome areas in season past..

Games, however, matter most.

Cook showed well in this environment, though he’ll have to continue playing well to secure a No. 2 job that eluded him in his first two seasons. Matt McGloin and EJ Manuel beat him out for the gig in respective seasons.

Manuel’s his competition again this year, though roles could well reverse under Gruden’s staff.

The veteran was 4-for-6 passing for 46 yards, and lost a fumbled snap.

Carr was 2-for-4 for 11 yards, and Jordy Nelson knocked down an easy interception.

Every offensive starter bounced after the first series save the offensive tackles. First-round left tackle Kolton Miller and right tackle Ian Silberman played two.

Marshawn Lynch wasn’t credited with a carry but showed great burst and breakaway speed on a 60-yard touchdown run nullified by Miller’s holding penalty that helped spring No. 24.

Count second-round defensive tackle among the impressive rookies Friday night. The Sam Houston State alum had a third-down sack and batted a pass at the line of scrimmage thanks to pressure from fellow rookie Maurice Hurst.

Running back Chris Warren also had a strong night, with 13 carries for 86 yards.

Continued health, as well all know, is the only true barometer of preseason success. While there may be issues unknown as the game ends, the Raiders didn’t have many obvious injuries. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton was attended to by trainers on the field early in the second half, but re-entered the game and got hurt again.

Raiders' chance to end playoff drought would improve with NFL proposal

Raiders' chance to end playoff drought would improve with NFL proposal

More isn't always better, but in the case of the Raiders, it nearly would have been.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the NFL reportedly is considering a proposal that would expand the postseason structure to add a seventh playoff team to each conference.

If the proposal passes, only one team per conference would receive a first-round bye in the playoffs, as opposed to the top-two seeds under the current format. With the No. 1 seed getting a bye, the No. 2 seed would face the No. 7 seed, No. 3 would face No. 6 and No. 4 would face No. 5 in the wild-card round, with the higher seed playing at home.

Had the proposal been in effect this past season, the Raiders still would have missed out on the postseason, but just barely. At 7-9, they finished a full game behind the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers, who ultimately would have been the seventh team in the AFC playoffs.

Adding to the excruciating factor, one-third of the Raiders' losses came by four or fewer points, including two in the final three weeks of the regular season. If they end up winning those nailbiters as opposed to losing them, that might have been enough to sneak into the postseason under the new proposed format. On the other hand, Pittsburgh lost its final three games of the season, including two by one score, so the Steelers could make the same argument.

[RELATED: Report: Growing sense teams could trade for Raiders QB Carr]

What's done is done, however, and the Raiders have now missed out on the playoffs three years running. Adding another playoff spot would automatically increase their chances of ending that drought in their first season in Las Vegas, but then again, it would do the same for the other 14 teams in the AFC.

NFL rumors: Teams sense opportunity to trade for Raiders QB Derek Carr

NFL rumors: Teams sense opportunity to trade for Raiders QB Derek Carr

The Raiders have a new home and soon will occupy a brand-new stadium. Might they also have a new quarterback under center for the first snap of the 2020 season?

There has been rampant speculation that Las Vegas might be interested in trading for legendary Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or possibly trading up to acquire one of the top QB prospects in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. Should either situation play out, but especially the former, it almost would certainly mean Derek Carr would be moved elsewhere.

Carr carries a $21.5 million cap hit for the 2020 season, and it would be almost impossible to field a competitive team with that much salary allocated to a backup.

Coach Jon Gruden gave a lukewarm endorsement of the quarterback following the Raiders' final season in Oakland, but both he and general manager Mike Mayock have maintained they'll look at every possible way to upgrade the roster for the team's first season in Sin City. Whether or not that means replacing Carr is anyone's guess, but if that's the route they choose to go, it sounds as if they might not have trouble finding a trade partner.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Vincent Bonsignore reported Tuesday night that momentum is building towards teams inquiring with the Raiders about potentially trading for Carr.

Carr has three more seasons left on his current contract, so any team that would acquire him would either need to have ample cap space or send some significant salary back to the Raiders. He'll turn 29 years old next month, and one could argue he's just entering his prime after posting career-bests in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating last season.

[RELATED: Carr unfazed by questions on Raiders future, brother says]

If Carr isn't the Raiders' QB for the first season in Vegas, they better be confident they've found a better fit for the organization moving forward.