In less than two weeks, rookie Connor Cook has gone from never having suited up for an NFL regular-season game, to becoming the Raiders’ backup quarterback, to being the projected starter for their first playoff game in 14 years.
Coach Jack Del Rio made it official Wednesday that Cook, whose NFL experience amounts to a little more than a half in Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos, will start Saturday’s AFC wild-card game against the Houston Texans.
Cook will be the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era whose first NFL start comes in a postseason game. The fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State said quarterbacks coach Todd Downing told him the news Wednesday morning and felt: “Just ready. Embrace this opportunity, give it everything I’ve got and go out and have fun.”
Active for the first time Sunday, Cook debuted after Matt McGloin, starting in place of the injured Derek Carr, left in the second quarter because of a sore left (non-throwing) shoulder. Cook completed 14 of 21 attempts for 150 yards and a touchdown with an interception and a fumble.
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You always have the nerves leading up to the game, but once you get out there and you have a couple snaps, get hit, get knocked down I think all that stuff kind of goes away.
That performance, coupled with lingering uncertainty about McGloin’s status, shaped the Raiders’ decision.
“It’s really an easy option,” Del Rio said. “He played pretty well when he went in, and Matt’s hurt.”
The Raiders are still “hoping to get Matt healthy enough to be in a backup role,” Del Rio said, but that “remains a question.”
McGloin was listed as limited in practice Wednesday but appeared to have good velocity on his throws during the window open to media. Garrett Gilbert, signed to the practice squad Tuesday, rounded out the quarterback group and could be activated as Cook’s backup if McGloin is unavailable.
After McGloin was hurt, Del Rio said he was impressed by how Cook handled being pressed into action.
“I thought the poise was there, the moment didn’t look too big for him, and I thought he did a real nice job leading the team down and moving the ball,” Del Rio said.
“We’re looking forward to playing as a team,” the coach continued. “I think what happens is that position gets so much attention, and understandably. But for us, it’s about letting one young man do his job and the rest of us worrying about ours.”
I think there’s a lot of unknown there, right. We’ll get to watch it play out. Let’s see him play.
Jack Del Rio, Raiders coach, on quarterback Connor Cook
The Raiders want to avoid overloading Cook with preparation, Del Rio said. As the third-string quarterback most of the season, Cook rarely ran the first-team offense in practice and mostly threw to wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in position drills, so this short game week is doubling as a crash course in chemistry.
Cook said he has watched film of the Raiders’ win over Houston in November in Mexico City and this week spoke with Carr and Brad Salem, his quarterbacks coach at Michigan State. He still anticipates some nerves going into Saturday.
“You always have the nerves leading up to the game, but once you get out there and you have a couple snaps, get hit, get knocked down, I think all that stuff kind of goes away,” Cook said. “Obviously, at Michigan State, we played in some big-time games there. … I’m going to try to take whatever I did there and put it to use out there Saturday.”
In Cook’s three seasons as its starter, Michigan State went 34-5 and won two Big Ten Conference championships. The Raiders traded up in last year’s draft to select him with the 100th overall pick, but they will send him onto the field Saturday, in a playoff atmosphere, still uncertain of what to expect.
“I think there’s a lot of unknown there, right?” Del Rio said. “We’ll get to watch it play out. Let’s see him play.”
Injury report – Rookie safety Karl Joseph was limited in practice but is expected to return Saturday after missing four games with turf toe. Safety Nate Allen did not participate due to a concussion.
Offensive tackle Donald Penn also did not participate with a knee injury suffered last Sunday against Denver, while left guard Kelechi Osemele (ankle) was limited. Receivers Cooper (shoulder), Crabtree (ankle) and Andre Holmes (shoulder) were limited.