Raiders bench Jimmy Garoppolo, to start Aidan O'Connell at QB

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 1, 2023

HENDERSON, Nev. -- It did not take long for theLas Vegas Raiders' new regime of interim general manager Champ Kelly and interim coach Antonio Pierce to put their stamp on the team.

Not with Pierce announcing rookieAidan O'Connellwould take over at quarterback in place of high-priced but oft-injured veteran Jimmy Garoppolo

"It will be Aidan, going forward," Pierce said in the introductory news conference on Wednesday. "We just feel like it gives us the best chance."

Kelly said the locker room reaction was positive to the change.

"The guys are rallying behind him," Kelly said of O'Connell. "They're excited to watch him get his opportunity. I was there as A.P. was speaking to the team and he had their eyes. There was an energy that was tangible in the room. There was a true excitement and guys are geared up to prepare for this weekend."

The Raiders (3-5) have lost two straight games in dispiriting fashion and play host to the New York Giants (2-6) Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Pierce, promoted from linebackers coach, won a Super Bowl as a player with the Giants in the 2007 season.

Energy was evident in the near 25-minute news conference, from both the excitable Pierce and the more laid-back Kelly because a change was needed, they said, to right the culture of the team in the wake of the Tuesday night dismissals of Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler as coach and GM, respectively.

"It's a new day, it's a new chapter, it's a new era, it's a new mindset," Pierce said. "What is that mindset? It's that of Raider pride, commitment to excellence and making sure our alumni, our fan base and Raider Nation are proud of what they see on the field.

"What does that look like? Tough, passionate, effort, energy ... we're on the same page -- Champ and myself. Our staff is connected. We had a great team meeting this morning. Everybody was steely eyed and focused. We walked in with a smile on our face. The synergy, the energy in this building, is the personality of our players. We reflect on who we are as Raiders. This is a great opportunity for myself. I'm humbled. I'm honored and I don't take it lightly."

No players were made available Wednesday as the team did not practice after playing Monday night at the Detroit Lions.

The Raiders are one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL and their offense is one of the worst. Las Vegas is ranked No. 31 in total offense, despite the presence of All-Pro receiver Davante Adams, who has not caught a touchdown pass since Week 3, and All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs, who has yet to have a 100-yard rushing game.

Bo Hardegree was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, replacing the fired Mick Lombardi, and will call plays for the first time in his coaching career.

Which raises the question -- if the offense was the problem, and it was McDaniels' scheme, what system do they run going forward?

"They know exactly the task and the plan going forward and what kind of offense we want to portray," Pierce said. "Are you going to sit there and rip up the whole playbook? No. But you better go through your key guys. I'm not a fool; I'm a player. Remember, I was a player before I was coach. It's a player-ran business."

Said Kelly: "I've had the privilege of working with Bo in three different buildings [with the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears and Raiders] now. He's not afraid of the moment, so we're confident in him. He's going to be authentically himself in this situation. So, you'll see Bo."

O'Connell, a fourth-round pick out of Purdue, started the Raiders' Week 4 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers, when Garoppolo was out with a concussion, and also came on in relief of 15-season veteran Brian Hoyer in Las Vegas' Week 7 loss at the Bears, when Garoppolo was out with a back injury.

In his limited action, O'Connell has completed 65.4% of his passes (34 of 52) for 313 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 72.0 and a Total QBR of 7.6. He has also been sacked seven times and lost two of his three fumbles but is seen as having a stronger arm than either Garoppolo or Hoyer, a necessity for the vertical game missing from the Raiders playbook.

Garoppolo, meanwhile, is struggling through his worst season as a full-time starter after signing a three-year, $72.75 million free agent contract with Las Vegas in March and immediately undergoing surgery on his left foot. He is completing 65.5% of his passes (110-168) for 1,205 yards with seven touchdowns and a league-leading nine interceptions, despite missing 2 games due to injury.

Pierce said he challenged players in the team meeting.

"We have the players in this building to win," he said. "We've just got to go do it. Enough talk. Enough sitting here and having these little cliques in the corner. That's what I told the guys. Put the goddamn pads on. Let's go out there and work tomorrow and practice and let's get to it, bottom line, and let's see where the results go on Sunday."

Pierce, who spent nine seasons in the NFL and was named to one Pro Bowl, began his coaching career at national power Long Beach (California) Poly High School in 2014 before moving on to Arizona State with Herm Edwards four years later. He joined McDaniels' staff last year, under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

He said he was destined to be with the Raiders, though.

"The short story, the matter of fact is, I grew up in Compton, California," Pierce said. "I was born a Raider. I was born with the Raiders rolling in the Coliseum in L.A. I was rolling with NWA, talking 'Straight Outta Compton,' rocking Raider hats. So, when the opportunity came to work with Josh and Pat Graham and Dave, I jumped on it. So that's what set me up for this. I was born this way."

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