“I think EJ’s been ahead,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said after Oakland’s preseason finale loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night.
“He was ahead most of the summer. I thought he played better tonight. We like both of these young men; they’ve worked hard for us. It’s been a really good room, it’s a very positive room. I think there’s good chemistry in the room. They get along well. They challenge each other and work well. So right now I’d say that EJ’s ahead.”
But did Manuel win the job, or did Cook lose it?
You would think the Raiders would have more of an investment in Cook, a fourth-round draft pick last season who started the team’s first postseason game in 14 years. Truly, Cook would have had a head start in the competition to be Derek Carr’s No. 2.
After all, Manuel, a first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2013, was an offseason free-agent signing.
“It feels good,” Manuel said after the game. “You know, I think the biggest thing for me was continuing to grind. The second and third preseason games, I personally wasn’t ecstatic with how it went, but that’s football sometimes and especially in these scenarios when you don’t get a full game or don’t get a full half or whatever, you can’t really look at it as an excuse. You just have to keep moving forward, and I was really happy to get some chances tonight.”
With Carr not playing in the preseason finale, Manuel started, and he and Cook alternated every two series.
After a slow start, Manuel engineered a 94-yard scoring drive in 14 plays, taking up 7 minutes, 57 seconds. His touchdown pass, an 18-yard laser to Keon Hatcher, was Manuel’s best pass of the preseason, and it might have solidified his gig, too.
In the preseason, Manuel completed 24 of 39 passes for 216 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 85.0.
Cook, meanwhile, was 36-for-71 for 342 yards with a TD and an INT and a passer rating of 63.2, He also had opportunities for last-minute drives to win games at Dallas and against the Seahawks but came up short both times.
Truly, though, neither did much this preseason to inspire confidence should Carr again go down to injury, as he did last Dec. 24 with one week to go in the regular season.
And that dull roar off in the distance might just be restless fans of backup quarterbacks clamoring for Colin Kaepernick. Would the Raiders consider going with only two quarterbacks in their initial 53-man roster?
All of that is for another day, what with Manuel holding off Cook ... or some such.
“That got the juices flowing for all of us, and the O-line did a great job because some of those young guys, they haven’t played the whole game like that all preseason,” Manuel said of his long scoring drive. “I was really proud of those guys for being able to continue to get that drive going and obviously the receivers getting open and, you know, [we] did a good job of running the ball too.”
Now it gets real.