Raiders minicamp observations: QBs Cook, Manuel battling for backup job

Raiders minicamp observations: QBs Cook, Manuel battling for backup job

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr took his helmet off after stretching and individual drills. The Raiders quarterback didn’t put it back on again.

The offseason program’s final practice was for the backups. Starters were spectators during team periods, as reps went to those needing it most.

Connor Cook and EJ Manuel assumed quarterback duties among the two active units, and continued a competition to be Carr’s primary backup.

It didn’t conclude Thursday, and should extend well into the preseason.

Cook has primarily run the second unit with Manuel orchestrating the third, though the pair have switched at times.

Cook’s more familiar with the system after a year in it. Manuel’s picking up since signing as a free agent in March.

“I think he’s come in and he and Connor are battling for the backup spot,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “They’ve alternated days, who’s working with the second group, who’s with the third group. They’ve alternated all throughout the offseason. We’ll continue that through training camp until we feel like someone’s earned that designation.”

The Raiders know too well the backup spot is vital. Carr went down in Week 16 last season and the Silver and Black never recovered. Cook and former reserve Matt McGloin struggled under difficult circumstances, and the Raiders never won a game without their starter.

Both quarterbacks had good moments and bad during offseason practices open to the media. Cook would seem to be a frontrunner, considering the Raiders traded up slightly to draft him in the fourth round last year. Manuel signed a contract with no guaranteed money this offseason, hoping for a fresh start after the 2013 first-round pick fell out of favor in Buffalo. He’s reunited with offensive coordinator Todd Downing – a former Bills quarterbacks coach – and enters a quarterback room that has had two and three guys on the 53-man roster under Del Rio.

The head coach likes his backup options, though there isn’t a clear hierarchy at this point.

“I think that room is strong right now, the quarterback room,” Del Rio said. “It’s a really healthy environment.”

Here are more notes and observations from Thursday’s minicamp practice:

-- Fourth-round offensive lineman David Sharpe received tons of work this offseason, with veteran right tackles Austin Howard and Marshall Newhouse missing time with injury. While pads are necessary when evaluating linemen, Del Rio was happy with Sharpe’s early work.

“He’s been bright. Has come in and joined a group. Fit right in,” Del Rio said. “He’s been very purposeful and working at learning the system and understanding how we do things. I think he’s growing from a technique standpoint with (offensive line coach Mike Tice). We think he has a bright future.”

-- Offensive guard/center Jon Feliciano went down hard and looked to suffer an apparent knee injury last week during OTAs. He was attended to by trainers for an extended stretch, but was able to leave the field under his own power. Del Rio said he didn’t expect Feliciano’s injury to be a long-term issue.

-- Cornerback Gareon Conley missed the last two days of minicamp, with an undisclosed ailment. Defensive linemen Jihad Ward, Fadol Brown and Darius Latham missed minicamp with injury. Howard, Newhouse and Feliciano also missed recent sessions, as previously mentioned in other notes.

-- Khalil Mack was given the professional 2016 Butkus Award on Wednesday by Dick Butkus himself in a private ceremony.

-- Receiver Seth Roberts, working on the punt teams this offseason, blocked a Marquette King offering during a special teams period. He could play more special teams this year, especially with Andre Holmes moved on to Buffalo. 

-- King took lots of reps Thursday, and sent several punts booming into the opposing 20-yard line.

-- Cornerback Kenneth Durden intercepted quarterback Connor Cook, collecting a ball originally well deflected by Dexter McDonald.

Report: Free agent tight end expected to meet with Raiders

Report: Free agent tight end expected to meet with Raiders

Jared Cook is looking for a new team.

The tight end is visiting with the Vikings, but if he doesn't sign with Minnesota, he is expected to meet with the Raiders, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

In 10 games with the Packers last season, he caught 30 passes for 377 yards and one touchdown.

In the playoffs, he racked up 103 yards and a score on six catches against the Cowboys, and seven receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.

Cook, who turns 30 in April, spent the first four seasons of his career in Tennessee and the subsequent three seasons with the Rams.

Raiders tight end Clive Walford caught 33 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Raiders' Cook won't excuse poor performance; 'I have high expectations for myself'

Raiders' Cook won't excuse poor performance; 'I have high expectations for myself'

HOUSTON – Raiders quarterback Connor Cook was put in a tough spot. This year's fourth-round pick made his first start in the playoffs, against the NFL’s best defense.

Welcome to the league, rook.

The Michigan State alum didn’t lament his lot. He viewed Saturday’s postseason game at Houston as a golden opportunity. Looking back on a 27-14 season-ending loss to the Texans, it was one he sorely missed.

Cook’s stats were unkind. He was 18-for-45 for 161 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a 30.0 passer rating.

Those aren’t numbers Cook tolerates, no matter how adverse the circumstances.

“I looked at it like I was going to come in here and I was going to play really well,” Cook said. “I was confident in the game plan, I was confident in the guys around me and I could rely on them, and I think sometimes I tried to do a little too much out there.

“I have high expectations for myself, and to come in here and play like that is not a good feeling. I want to give my team a better chance to come out and win. But, it’s a learning experience and we just have to move on.”

The Raiders will move into the offseason wishing they could’ve gone on a long playoff run. Competing without injured starting quarterback Derek Carr and left tackle Donald Penn surely didn’t help, but the Raiders believed there was enough firepower left to beat the Texans.

There was a requirement to do so. The offensive line and skill players had to help their rookie quarterback, and put him in positions to succeed. That didn’t happen often enough.

Receivers dropped far too many passes. The run game didn’t get going save a first-quarter touchdown drive. The defense allowed too many points and didn’t make any game-changing plays. The Raiders fell down early and played catch-up all game, making Cook’s life harder than it already was.

“It was a tough draw for Connor,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We had hopes that we’d be able to do enough around him that he wouldn’t be called to do as much. I think we ended up throwing 45 times in the game. That’s not the design. I can assure you that. We’d have liked to go into this game and pass it 20 or 25 times and run it the other 45 or 50 times. It got out of whack there.

“Once you’re behind like that, you’re playing catch-up and you’re not able to get some of the things you want to get done, done.”

The Raiders offense was stifled, and never really revved up. Cook’s 3.6 yards per pass attempt ranks third worst in a playoff game since the AFL-NFL merger, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He wasn’t able to connect deep, and threw some killer interceptions. One was intercepted by Jadeveon Clowney inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line. Another came as the Raiders were trying to make it a one-score game.

Those are the types of rookie mistakes possible when a No. 3 quarterback is thrust into the limelight without much prep. Cook said the game was a learning experience, one he wishes could’ve come with a win.

“I got pressured a little bit and it got to me sometimes,” Cook said. “That falls on me. There were a few times I held on to the ball too long. I need to get it out of my hands and check to the backs. Stuff like that I can improve on. They have very good coverage on the outside. They play good defense and the windows were tight, but that falls on my shoulders to deliver very accurate passes to our receivers.”