Any Given Monday: Raiders Smell what Connor’s Cooking

connor cook oakland raiders any given monday

As the Friday night lights shone down on the Oakland Coliseum, all eyes were on Jon Gruden’s return to the sidelines. By the end of the night, it was Gruden’s project quarterback, Connor Cook, whose light shone brightest. Cook, the third-year quarterback who was thrown to the wolves in his first start in the Raiders only playoff game since 2003.

Yes, that Connor Cook.

With the exception of one snap in which he refused to check down to the tight end in the flat, not much else could have been asked of No. 18. Cook threw for 141 yards and a touchdown, completing 11 of 19 pass attempts, but his performance went beyond the stats. Cook looked in control of the huddle and pre-snap reads at the line of scrimmage. Though we didn’t see any pre-snap shifts, as has been the case in training camp, it didn’t appear as though the offense had been simplified or limited for the former Michigan State Spartan. He didn’t need to take a timeout due to getting out of the huddle late or getting confused pre-snap either. His two-minute drill wasn’t perfect, but he moved the chains and threw to receivers in favorable positions to get out of bounds.

What was most impressive about Cook, though, was his pocket presence. Gruden mentioned often this offseason that Derek Carr will be asked to use his legs in the offense more, particularly as a weapon to extend the play and to remain on schedule. Clearly, Cook has taken to this as well. On the same drive, Cook used two feet to extend two plays with very effective results. The first play saw Cook look off his read to the left, feeling the pressure in the pocket, scramble out right and make a perfect throw to tight end Paul Butler down the right sideline. The second was a classic scramble drill, with Cook rolling left buying time before making a difficult throw across his body to Ryan Switzer for the touchdown.

Cook’s poise against the Lions was even more noticeable after exiting the game, given that next man up, EJ Manuel, fumbled and lost a snap inside the 10-yard line leading to a turnover. Ultimately, Cook showed that if he keeps this form up over the next three games, he will undoubtedly be the choice to back up Carr on the depth chart come Week 1 against the Rams.

Rookie Watch

Jason Cabinda

Described by Gruden as a complete middle linebacker, the undrafted rookie out of Penn State has forced his way into discussions for one of the final roster spots. That being said, he played poorly Friday night, missing multiple tackles, taking a bad angle on a screen pass and not being able to stick a tackle when he did get his hands on the ball carrier.

P.J. Hall

The defensive tackle had a very productive game against the Lions. He got two solid days of practice in and showed up in a big way early on Friday night. In the first quarter, Hall had a sack and a pass breakup. If he continues this type of form, any doubts about spending a second-round pick on the small-school prospect will linger no more.

Veteran Watch

Marquel Lee

marquel lee oakland raiders connor cook any given monday

Raiders linebacker Marquel Lee.

Training camp observers have talked up Lee, as he appears to be ahead of Derrick Johnson at middle linebacker as it currently stands. In particular, Lee looked stout in the run game, consistently filling his gap and getting downhill on the ball carrier, with four run stops in just eight snaps against the run. Lee wasn’t really tested in the passing game, so that is something to watch the next few weeks, but his performance certainly gives him a solid platform to work from.

Ian Silberman

With Breno Giacomini and Brandon Parker unavailable, Silberman started at right tackle. He looked solid in the run game, but his pass protection left a lot to be desired. On one play, in particular, Silberman was pushed so far back into the pocket that Carr’s arm was hit as he released the ball, leading to what should have been an interception. The Raiders will want more assertiveness from this to be ready for Wade Phillips’ Rams defense on Monday Night Football.

A Quote to Remember

“If I have time to play video games, then I have time to get back into my playbook.”

EJ Manuel discussing his ‘free time’ management whilst at camp.

A Tweet of Amusement

White Line Fever – Where do You Draw the Line?

Last week Down Under, Australian football player Andrew Gaff, largely considered as an MVP candidate for the season, was suspended for eight games for this ugly uppercut to an opponent’s face. To contextualize this punishment, the regular season is 22 games with a possible four playoff games. This suspension rules Gaff out for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.

Gaff fractured his opponent’s jaw in two places, knocked three teeth out, and now, after surgery, the victim can only ingest liquids through a straw for the next six weeks.

This coward punch is something that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Main Event bout in Las Vegas, let alone a sporting field. When I saw it for the first time, I immediately was taken back to the violent brawl in Oakland last season featuring Michael Crabtree and Aqib Talib. Both players were suspended for one game. Sure, no one was seriously injured in that brawl, but the potential for injury was rife.

If these indiscretions occurred at a bar, they would have been locked up for the night and in court very shortly after. But because these events happened on a sporting field, the ‘law’ for whatever reasons doesn’t apply. Sure, sporting matches do have a different standard of laws to abide by, but I seriously wonder at what point in sport does an action by an individual or group ever become a criminal offense? I don’t have the answer to that question, but it’ll keep me thinking for a while, at least.

3rd-And-7

Three predictions

1. If Marquel Lee continues his solid play and shows he can hold up in the passing game, Derrick Johnson will be cut. Gruden loves his veteran players, but he ultimately wants to get the best guys on the field, regardless of age.

2. If Obi Melifonwu isn’t put on IR, he will be cut. It has become a running joke with his injury history since being drafted with Gruden and staff are increasingly frustrated with his lack of availability. Gruden has no ties to Melifonwu and won’t hesitate to cut him if they can’t stash him on IR because the safety spot has a lot of competition for places.

3. Marshawn Lynch showed enough on his 60-yard run that was called back on a holding penalty, that he’s still got the juice. Gruden knows what he’s got there and will put him on ice the rest of the pre-season.

Seven things I think

1. Carr has an edge about him that we haven’t seen previously. It’s clear that Gruden is rubbing off on the franchise QB, which can only be seen as a positive for the Raiders fortunes going forward.

2. This D-Line is going to be sneaky good if Irvin, PJ Hall, Mo Hurst and Mario Edwards Jr are able to generate consistent pressure. It is still early in the process but there is a small buzz around the Raiders camp that this D-Line will be the engine room of this defense. Combined with Guenther’s schematics, consistent pressure on the QB is only going to make it easier on the defense as a whole.

3. There’s a very good chance that Kolton Miller is the starting left tackle come Week 1 of the regular season against the Rams. The Raiders have asked Donald Penn to restructure his contract and the reception from Penn has been lukewarm at best. It makes me wonder whether the Raiders are trying to free cap space up now so they can put more money of Khalil Mack’s extension into this year for salary cap purposes.

4. Daryl Worley’s likely suspension will hurt the Raiders significantly if Gareon Conley remains sidelined with a hip strain. Worley is clearly the next man up in such a scenario and to lose him for any amount of time would be a blow to the secondary. Given the relatively minimal judicial punishment for his off-field indiscretions in March, I doubt Worley will get any more than a two-game suspension. Then again, this is the NFL and they seem to move the boundaries of the rules as they see fit. Conley, however, is expected to resume team activities this week and will likely get playing time against the Rams on Saturday.

5. The hysteria surrounding Khalil Mack’s status with the Raiders in the media has reached a ridiculous pitch. This is the culmination of dead silence from Mack’s agent and the Raiders with an expectation from media executives to get a story published. As always, when there’s silence, human nature tends to look at a situation with a more negative slant. Raider Nation shouldn’t be worried though, as there is next to no chance of a trade. Based on what I’ve heard to this point, the Raiders and Mack are closer to an extension than seriously considering a trade.

6. After Marquette King’s multiple outbursts towards the Denver media in the past week, it’s safe to say that Gruden moving away from this ticking time bomb can only be seen as a good move. Sure, King is an elite punter in the game but the difference between an elite punter and an above average punter is not worth the hassle as say, a diva stud wideout to an average receiver. Guess you picked the wrong position with your personality Marquette.

7. The NFL is in a great position when it comes to video review compared to other sports around the globe. Contentious decisions are going to happen almost weekl, but we live in such a technologically advanced world that insufficient video evidence should never be an issue. By comparison, the Australian Football League has such a poor video review system that the majority of video reviewed decisions are deemed to have insufficient evidence to make a determination, while we saw at the World Cup in Russia that the VAR, though still relatively in its infancy, needs a bit of tinkering.