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Raiders Mailbag: What does coaching staff want to see from Aidan O'Connell as rookie campaign nears conclusion?

Garrett Wood from California asks:

"Are they sticking with Aidan O'Connell?"

The rookie quarterback has been improving week-by-week since taking over as starting quarterback. In Week 12, he put in a 248-yard performance while completing nearly 70 percent of his throws. As he continues to get more comfortable in the pocket, his accuracy has improved. After going 2-2 in the month of November, we could potentially see the best of what O'Connell has to offer following the bye week.

"The first three games, cool. That last game man, the kid played well," said Interim Head Coach Antonio Pierce. "He gave us a shot. He gave us a chance to win. Took care of the football, made the adjustments, made the corrections that we needed to. Was poised, was calm, didn't blink. And that's what we want to see. ... He is getting confident. You can see it how he's walking in the building, the way he's talking."

Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree also had positive things to say about O'Connell's development as an NFL quarterback. Hardegree has been working closely with him since rookie minicamp.

"He's progressing. Very positive what he did last game," Hardegree said. "Obviously, you don't win, that's your No. 1 job. That's my job. But he did a lot of positive things to grow from. ... He does a good job of communicating with all his teammates. He's been like that since he came here. He's very grateful for his opportunity and he's trying to make the best of it."

John Humphrey asks:

"Who's going to start at slot corner for us, now that Hobbs will probably have to move back outside?"

Nate Hobbs moving back to outside cornerback might not exactly be the correct assumption to make. While he has the ability to play on the outside, he's excelled at nickel this season. In his 298 snaps covering the slot, he has accumulated 40 solo tackles and an 86 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus – both the highest on the team among cornerbacks.

I wouldn't try to fix what's not broken, and the Raiders have more than enough options to place outside.

I expect to see a lot of Jack Jones and Jakorian Bennett on the outside. Jones, a former Patriot, was picked up off waivers a couple of weeks ago and saw a lot of reps against the Kansas City Chiefs. Bennett, the fourth-round rookie from Maryland, has had his share of growing pains this season, and though he was inactive last game, he will likely be looking to finish the season strong. 

"Just compete. Compete in terms of pass coverage," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham on his expectations of the two cornerbacks.

"We have to do a good job of tackling and getting off of blocks," he added. "And then from a coverage standpoint, compete in terms of winning your leverage, timing, good vision, good eye discipline in zone coverage, and really just competing and trying to get the ball."

Along with Jones and Bennett, Amik Robertson could be in line for increased snaps at outside cornerback, with three pass deflections and two sacks this season. Robertson, like Hobbs, provides versatility at nickel and outside cornerback.

Jim Dwyer from New York asks:

"We're averaging less than seven points in the second half this season. Has anyone picked up on this?"

It's funny you mention it Jim, because Antonio Pierce has certainly picked up on this.

Coming out the gate fast hasn't been a problem for the Raiders recently, as they're averaging 14.25 points in the first half over their previous four games. However, the 4.75 points averaged in the second half during that same span is concerning. When asked what areas the team can improve in moving forward, Pierce didn't sugarcoat the issue.

"We have to do better in the second half. Start fast and that will be our goal and our little rally cry this week," the Raiders head coach said Wednesday. "Obviously we come out the gate like bulls, but we need to do that in the second half as well. We have some plans to do that and we'll work on that this week.

"You look at the National Football League, there's a reason why you have winning teams and losing teams and teams in the middle of the pack. Who can maintain that winning stamina, is what I call it, for 60 minutes – mentally, emotionally and physically," continued Pierce. "For us, that's something we're continuing to grow on and work on, and that's something I put a big focus on for our coaching staff and players this week."

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