Jon Gruden is the best thing to happen for Connor Cook. The third-year quarterback out of Michigan State has arguably his biggest fan in his corner and said fanatic so happens to be the Oakland Raiders head coach.
Gruden did not hold back his admiration for the 25-year-old Cook during his QB Camp segment on ESPN. Dubbing Cook a decisive gunslinger, Gruden highlighted the quarterback’s improvisation, arm strength, and accuracy. That plus getting down to the nitty-gritty of the leadership questions with Cook, Gruden isn’t only a coach who fully backs him, but could tap into the former Spartan’s well of potential.
(To be fair, Gruden was a huge proponent for Raiders franchise starting QB Derek Carr coming out of Fresno State. He was also a big believer in EJ Manuel as he left the Florida State program. Oh, and let us not forget, Gruden liked short-time Raider Christian Hackenburg out of Penn State, but I digress.)
“Could” is the operative word when it comes to Cook. Gruden’s record of accomplishment for developing NFL quarterbacks is iffy at best. He failed to advance the careers of Marques Tuiasosopo, Shaun King, Bruce Gradkowski, Josh Johnson, Luke McCown, and Chris Simms. In truth, he could seriously be considered the Browns of the QB development world based on his record of accomplishment.
Fortunately, in Oakland, Gruden will not be developing Carr as much as he will be refining the starting quarterback. Increase the good habits while decreasing the bad ones is the name of the game with Carr. A few tweaks here and there and he is good to go.
Cook is the conundrum. Even Gruden admitted as much.
“Well, I’m kind of surprised that Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than [starting] the playoff game,” Gruden said at the NFL combine. “He got in late in the year as a rookie, after [Matt] McGloin got hurt, and it was out of necessity, but after Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ.”
Gruden has turned the ball to Connor. At least, for now.
The former Michigan State signal caller took second-team snaps ahead of Manuel thus far in camp. Plus, he made his fair share of memorable and forgettable throws.
Whether it is the previous coaching staff’s familiarity with Manuel or not, the former first-round pick earned the backup duties.
Could this all be a case of Gruden knowing what Manuel — a 28-year-old vet entering his sixth year in the league — has to offer and wanting to see what the 25-year-old Cook can do with the second unit? Of course.
The other side of that pillow is Gruden genuinely believes Cook is the better option as Carr’s primary backup and the restored belief brings out more from the fourth-round pick.
Gruden is intent on having competition at numerous positions and it is in the best interest of a team to have a keen fight for the No. 2 job at quarterback.
The Raiders surely do not want a scenario where they will have to lean on the backup. Nevertheless, it never hurts to have a quality arm behind the franchise.