The EJ Manuel/Griff Whalen connection was born in Southern California, so it was only appropriate that the two found the end zone Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The pair spent much of the offseason training together – Whalen lives in Redondo Beach and Manuel spent his off months in Southern California – and the familiarity between the two was evident in the in the fourth quarter of the Raiders 19-15 loss to the Los Angeles Rams Saturday afternoon.
Down by a touchdown with 12:49 left in the fourth quarter, Manuel, operating out of the shotgun, quickly looked to his left, and found Whalen, who to his credit made an acrobatic one-handed catch before falling into the end zone.
"Great catch," said Manuel when discussing the Raiders lone passing touchdown of the afternoon. "Griff and I, we actually worked out together a lot during the offseason, so it was kind of cool to connect like that. Obviously, I want to get the ball in front of him, but he bailed me out there, so as soon as he got up, I went up to him and told him thank you, but it was a great catch on his part."
"There's not much to analyze," Whalen added. "It's just those things happen so quick, it's just reaction, that's all that time you put in on the JUGS [machine], and stuff like that, and catching tennis balls, and all those kinds of things. That's where it pays off."
While Whalen played the part of the humble receiver impeccably postgame, not only was his impressive catch a highlight on a day the Raiders' offense struggled to get rolling for much of the afternoon, but it also put the team in position to take a shot at the lead after falling behind 16-0 early.
"It was huge," Manuel said of the score. "It gave us a chance to get back in the game to win it. We went for two, weren't successful unfortunately, but I think it was a good spark for us. I was happy to be able to throw a touchdown, get on the board for six, but like I said, I know it was a great confidence boost for all of us, offense and defense."
While the Raiders ultimately fell to the Rams 19-15, Whalen's performance – for really the past two weeks – was a positive takeaway from a game that wasn't overflowing with memorable moments.
And give credit to the former member of the Stanford Cardinal, since he signed with the Silver and Black in March, No. 13 has made sure to take full advantages of the chances he's been afforded, both as a return man, and out wide as a receiver.
"They [the Raiders] just told me coming in they were giving me an opportunity to compete, and that's all I can ask for," Whalen explained. "And so I feel like I've taken advantage of every opportunity that I've been able to, and just try to show them what I can do."
What he's done in the first half of the 2018 preseason is haul in three passes – including the aforementioned touchdown – as well as return four punts, two kickoffs, and show that he could no doubt add value to a Raiders' offense that is looking to rebound in a big way this year.
That said, the fact remains that at this juncture, in large part it's going to be a numbers game, especially for the team's wide receivers, as we inch closer to September 1.
But, give Whalen credit, halfway to roster reduction day, the versatile wideout has made the most of the times his number has been called, especially with the starters getting abbreviated run during the preseason.
"It's more opportunities for me," Whalen said. "Jordy's not playing, 'Coop's' not playing, that's just more snaps that I get, and even today, we didn't go three or four wide a whole lot, so not as many reps as I'd like to have, but when I'm in there, I just try to do the best that I can."
And with two preseason games left before roster reduction day, keep on eye on Whalen to see what he does with the chances he's given against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks respectively.