HENDERSON, Nev. — Brian Hoyer’s importance shouldn’t be overlooked. The 37-year-old backup quarterback hasn’t played significant snaps since going 0-6 in six starts for the 49ers in 2017, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the position he holds now.
Hoyer played with the Raiders’ first team through OTAs while Jimmy Garoppolo recovered from foot surgery, and he has been the primary backup during training camp. Garoppolo left practice early Wednesday because he’s on a pitch count, so Hoyer took the first-string snaps during the last portion of 11-on-11 drills. Garoppolo has additional off days scheduled as he continues working his way back, so it likely won’t be the last we see of Hoyer.
“It’s about keeping yourself on your toes and always being ready to go,” Hoyer said Wednesday. “You never know when that might be. That’s part of the job.”
Garoppolo is healthy now, but concerns over his durability hang over the Raiders. Since becoming a starter for the 49ers in 2017, the 31-year-old has missed 31 games, suffered three season-ending injuries and played a full season just once.
Those numbers suggest that Hoyer could see the field at some point for the Raiders this season. The veteran has been OK as a spot starter throughout his career but, again, he hasn’t seen much action in six years. It’s fair to question his viability if Garoppolo misses time.
The counterargument is that Hoyer has plenty of experience, knows the system in and out (he’s entering his sixth season with coach Josh McDaniels) and is competent enough to get by with receiving options like Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow.
“Fortunately for me, I’ve been a backup in this offense for a long time, so I’ve gotten a ton of reps over the years,” Hoyer said. “There’s not really ever a play that’s called that I haven’t run at some point. … There’s not really much that gets called that would surprise me.”
Still, a more favorable scenario for the Raiders is quarterback Aidan O’Connell developing enough to earn the role as Garoppolo’s backup. The rookie fourth-round pick out of Purdue has been brought along slowly but hasn’t performed well so far, so he’s not yet a reliable option. That said, O’Connell has made an impression on Hoyer.
“He’s done a great job,” Hoyer said of the rookie. “I mean, this is not an easy offense to learn, especially as a young guy. I got to watch Mac Jones run it two years ago and, really, that was impressive. And Aidan’s doing a good job, too.”
Hoyer’s deep accuracy has been shaky throughout training camp, but he has been on target on shorter throws and hasn’t had any issues getting the offense in and out of plays. That adds up given that Hoyer has taken more practice snaps with the Raiders than Garoppolo at this point. Those reps with the starting unit would prove valuable if Hoyer is called into action.
Ideally for the Raiders, Garoppolo remains healthy throughout this season, Hoyer can focus on his role as a mentor for O’Connell and the rookie doesn’t have to get prematurely thrown in the fire. O’Connell is a competitor — in college, he worked his way up from a walk-on buried on the depth chart to a multiyear starter — and surely wants to play as early as he can, but sitting, watching and learning is what’s best for him at this stage of his career. Hoyer is on board with helping him along the way.
“Look, this is a team game. No matter who’s out there, we want those people to do well,” Hoyer said. “Whatever it might be, I try to help those guys as much as I can.”
• Running back Zamir White had his first highlight of training camp with a long run down the left sideline during 11-on-11 drills toward the end of practice. He’s known as a power runner, but he showed an ability to separate from defenders once he made it to the second level. He’s been able to show off his talents as a runner and blocker more vividly during padded practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
When asked what stands out about White’s game, McDaniels said, “His run skill and innate ability to see things when he has the ball. Find lanes and cutbacks. When he’s supposed to bounce and when he’s not. When he’s supposed to go ahead and tuck in there and make some hard yards. And I’d say just overall his ability to go forward on contact. …
“He didn’t have a lot of opportunity last year, obviously, because of Josh (Jacobs). I’m just looking forward to continuing to work with him, but he’s putting a lot of time and effort into trying to be a complete player …. He wants to be good in blitz pickup, he wants to improve in the passing game, and all those things are part of a young back’s progression. He’s really working at all those phases.”
• For the second practice in a row, Thayer Munford was the starting right tackle during 11-on-11 drills. Jermaine Eluemunor had that spot locked down for most of OTAs and the first week of training camp, but it looks like Munford has made up some ground in the competition.
Eluemunor split time between right guard and right tackle last season, but he has been working exclusively at right tackle this year. The Raiders like Alex Bars at right guard, so it could be a make-or-break situation for Eluemunor at right tackle.
“This is the first training camp of my career I’ve been able to come in as a starter,” Eluemunor said Wednesday. “But then that adds more pressure. In this camp, it’s more about solidifying my spot than it is earning. But then also we have talented guys in the room: Thayer, Brandon (Parker), even Justin (Herron). It’s more about improving every day myself and solidifying my spot, but then also finding ways to get better.”
• McDaniels was asked Wednesday about the status of edge rusher Tyree Wilson (non-football injury list), defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. (NFI) and defensive tackle Byron Young (physically unable to perform list). He wouldn’t disclose when he expects them to return but said they’re getting closer.
“They are. Day-by-day,” McDaniels said. “They’re in every meeting. They’re paying attention. They’re studying. They’re doing all the things they can do at this point while they’re getting closer to returning. … As soon as they’re ready, they’ll be out there.”
• Cornerback Brandon Facyson had to be carted off the field during practice Tuesday due to a leg injury and didn’t practice Wednesday, but McDaniels said he doesn’t expect him to be out long term. A timeline for his return remains unclear, but it seems the injury wasn’t as bad as it appeared.
• During 11-on-11 drills, Nate Hobbs was lined up at nickelback with the starting defense. He had a stellar rookie campaign at the position in 2021 but, last season, mostly played outside due to injuries elsewhere, and his play dropped off significantly. With him inside, Marcus Peters and Jakorian Bennett held down the two first-team cornerback spots.
• Running back Austin Walter also didn’t practice Wednesday after suffering a leg injury Tuesday. Safety Jaquan Johnson missed the last two practices with an undisclosed injury but returned to action Wednesday wearing a red non-contact jersey. The Raiders signed tight end Jacob Hollister on Wednesday to replace fellow tight end O.J. Howard who was cut Tuesday.
(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
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