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.
-- 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.”