EJ Manuel

EJ Manuel came to compete, push Cook in Raiders' backup QB battle

EJ Manuel came to compete, push Cook in Raiders' backup QB battle

NAPA – The competition to become Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s backup remains a dead heat. That’s offensive coordinator Todd Downing’s take, and an accurate one. Nobody wins a position battle after two training camp practices.

Padded practices begin Monday, with several more and four preseason games after that. There’s plenty left to evaluate.

One thing, however, it already clear in camp. The No. 2 job won’t be handed to 2016 fourth-round pick Connor Cook.

EJ Manuel came to compete.

The 27-year old former Buffalo Bill has made some solid throws since camp started, showing increased accuracy and confidence as he gets comfortable with a new scheme.

“With the quarterback position, the phrase knowledge is confidence comes to mind a lot,” Downing said after Sunday’s practice. “As he gets more and more comfortable with our system, he’s able to use his footwork, the proper technique, the proper drops, the proper eye placement on zone defenders to help him be more confident in where he’s going with the football. We anticipate EJ continuing the growing trend that we’ve seen.”

Manuel is a talented thrower. First-round quarterbacks typically are. He got a bit bogged down by his time in Buffalo, where he started 10 games as a rookie and played less every year. Tyrod Taylor became the man there. Manuel needed to hit reset.

He chose to do so in Oakland with Downing, who was Bills quarterbacks coach during Manuel’s tenure there. This new start has Manuel feeling fresh and enjoying his job more.

“I don’t care what the profession is, I think you can tell when somebody enjoys what they’re doing,” Downing said. “I can’t speak to the past couple of years for EJ, but I know he’s enjoying himself now. When you enjoy what you do for a living, you can show up each day with the right attitude and approach. He’s certainly done that each day, found a way to get better every day.”

Manuel looked sharp on Sunday, with several accurate passes in the short and deep passing game. He seems especially comfortable with training camp roommate Cordarrelle Patterson, who he connects with often.

Manuel worked mostly with the second team during camp’s first two practices, though Downing said the backup quarterbacks will alternate between the second and third units.

Cook is younger and the homegrown talent, which seemed to put him in line for the No. 2 spot. Manuel plans to push him throughout camp and wants to win that immediate backup job. Winning that position battle won’t be viewed as a personal victory, even for someone trying to reinvent himself after a disappointing stint in Buffalo.

“My focus is now on the team,” Manuel said. “Anything I can do personally is secondary. I’m going to come out, work every day, and try to make the quarterback room better. We all have to have growth. As good as Derek has to be, we all have to be good, too. When and if that time comes, you have to answer the bell.”

The Raiders know that all too well. They floundered after Derek Carr broke a fibula in Week 16. Matt McGloin floundered and Cook was thrown to the lions in a playoff game. Having a confident, savvy backup could help in an emergency.

Manuel is focused on consistency in preparation and practice, to consistently make smart decisions on the field. He learned from his Buffalo experience, and believes he’s a better quarterback for it.

QUICK SLANTS

-- RB Marshawn Lynch started team drills with two nice runs that showed great burst and agility, which sent the East Bay crowd into a tizzy.

-- ILB Marquel Lee joined the first unit for the first time Sunday, seeing reps over Tyrell Adams on the weak side.

-- Amari Cooper made several nice catches, including a long pass after beating CB Sean Smith. He was left alone after Karl Joseph blitzed. Derek Carr saw the pressure and found Cooper wide open.

-- Head coach Jack Del Rio makes units do up-downs for making mistakes like pre-snap penalties, and the offense did several on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing joined his charges in the grunt work.

“Up-downs aren’t great,” tackle Marshall Newhouse said. “I haven’t done up-downs since high school and I’m trying to keep it that way. I don’t love up-downs.”

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.

Manuel: OC Downing made signing with Raiders a 'no brainer'

Manuel: OC Downing made signing with Raiders a 'no brainer'

EJ Manuel met Todd Downing at the 2013 Senior Bowl. That was roughly four years ago now, when Downing was Detroit quarterbacks coach and Manuel was a highly touted quarterback out of Florida State.

The Lions didn’t need a quarterback then but the Buffalo Bills certainly did, selecting Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick. Manuel appreciated Downing’s tuteledge as a draft prospect, and was thrilled when Buffalo made him quarterbacks coach before his second professional season.

The pair formed a solid bond then and now have a chance to foster it. Manuel signed a contract with the Raiders on Monday afternoon, re-joining forces with the Silver and Black’s recently promoted offensive coordinator. Manuel said Downing was a big reason why he signed on this deal.

“When he did call once free agency began and told me that they were interested, for me it was a no-brainer,” Manuel said in a conference call. “That’s a situation you want. Especially as a quarterback and in my situation, trying to really change the perception of whatever I’ve gone through in Buffalo and all that kind of stuff. I know the player I can be and so does coach Downing. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Manuel’s NFL career hasn’t been smooth. He was a rookie starter who lost that job in his second season, a setback for a physically gifted passer from Florida State hoping for better.

Manuel won’t regain a starting spot in Oakland, where Derek Carr is firmly entrenched atop the depth chart. Manuel has enjoyed previous interactions and marveled at his rapid rise from afar.

“We watched him on tape a bunch because they played the same teams during the season,” Manuel said. “I used to even call or text Todd during the season the past two years and just ask him what he was doing as far as teaching Derek. What was he doing to help his game jump levels so quickly? I felt like he elevated his game so fast as a young guy. To have the consistency and such that he’s had, especially last year, in this league is very hard to do. However I can help him, I’m willing to do, but of course I’m here to compete for the No. 2 job.”

That spot could well go to Connor Cook, a 2016 fourth-round pick who started a playoff game last season with Carr and Matt McGloin on the shelf.

“I just want to be an addition,” Manuel said. “I’m not an ego guy and all that kind of stuff. I’m not driven by that. Obviously, as a player you’re very prideful in yourself, but I’m about the team. I want the team to get better. I want to be here to help this franchise and team to be where they are in whatever role or capacity that is. That’s what I’m excited to do.”