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Aidan O'Connell embracing impending quarterback competition

Don't let the mild-manned demeanor and thick mustache fool you – Aidan O'Connell isn't ducking any competition this offseason.

The quarterback is going into his first full NFL offseason training program after being thrust into the spotlight in the middle of his rookie season. There were initial growing pains easing into the starting role, getting sacked 13 times and throwing five interceptions between Weeks 9 and 15.

But the growing pains wore off.

To end his rookie campaign, O'Connell won three of his last four starts with an 8:0 touchdown-interception ratio. His defining moment of the year was throwing four touchdowns in a franchise-record 63-point showing against the Los Angeles Chargers.

"I'm definitely not used to just being the guy going into the season," O'Connell said Monday. "So, I definitely think it's probably more foreign for that to happen just based on the years of me playing football since high school. It'd be more foreign to me being the unquestioned starter rather than competing."

O'Connell's progression was noticeable in the box score and in the huddle. Center Andre James, who re-signed with the Raiders, had the "super awesome" first-hand experience of watching the quarterback begin to come into his own.

"He came in and he was super direct, took lead of everything, and it was just awesome to watch him grow," James said. "I'm excited to see how he continues to develop as a quarterback."

Numerous times throughout the offseason, Head Coach Antonio Pierce has stressed that it'll be an open quarterback competition going into the 2024 season. While he's satisfied with the growth and resiliency O'Connell showed throughout last season, Pierce knows he's not a finished product by any means either.

"He did a hell of a job for us," Pierce said last month at the Annual League Meeting. "You're talking about a kid that has the mental toughness to play in the National Football League.

"I would love to see him become more vocal," the head coach added. "Is he ever going to become a runner? No, not going to happen, that's OK, but there's other ways that you can do that and move around in the pocket. I think he's done a great job this offseason, being in the building and staying in the Las Vegas area and really working on that."

O'Connell's path to keeping the QB1 position will be a challenging one. The Silver and Black signed former Baltimore Ravens quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. to a reserve/future contract back in January and Pro Bowler Gardner Minshew II in free agency. Minshew threw for over 3,300 yards last season with the Indianapolis Colts and defeated the Raiders 23-20 in Week 17.

The Silver and Black could also select a quarterback in the draft next week, setting up a potential four-lane race for the starting quarterback position.

"I think especially at this level, and I thought the same thing at Purdue, but especially at this level, there's going to be competition," O'Connell said. "I mean, it's the best of the best. The coaches and administration want to bring in the best players possible to try to make the team better, and the best guys are going to play, so I'm just trying to do my job.

"It's new at this level for me, but it's nothing new in terms of the competition," continued O'Connell. "It's been even since high school what I've been dealing with and working through. That's just part of the game. It's not unique to any one position, it's how it is at every position."

O'Connell said he's spent a large portion of the offseason training to add muscle to his frame while also getting some time away from football to rest and relax with his wife. With the daunting workout days ahead, he views competition as less of a hassle and more as a blessing.

"I remember about a year ago, I was still back at Purdue just training, still hoping I was going to get drafted," he said. "A lot of different stressors, and just lucky to be in this spot, lucky to be a part of an organization in general, especially an organization like this. The offseason has been great. I've been able to reflect on the privilege it is to play football here."

View photos of the Las Vegas Raiders arriving at Intermountain Health Performance Center for the start of the 2024 voluntary offseason workout program.

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