By Paul Wexler
Bruce Gradkowski has been named the Raiders full-time starter by coach Tom Cable, who called it an “easy decision.” JaMarcus Russell started the first nine games, but he now is the No. 2 until further notice.
“Just felt like he would give us the best chance to win, and we need to get to playing better offensively and win football games,” Cable said.
Cable said the change is not “week to week” but that this is where the Raiders are headed. Cable added that he is impressed with what Gradkowski brings to the table and wants to give him time to jell with the receivers.
“I just think his leadership, his management, understanding of what we’re trying to do… accuracy,” Cable said. “Just a lot of those intangible-type things, and give him a chance to get all the reps and go out and build some chemistry with the receivers.”
One of the reasons Russell was benched was his failure to get the ball to the wide receivers, Cable said. Russell already-league-worst passer rating dropped even lower when measured only on throws to the wide receivers.
“Well, I think that was the primary concern,” Cable said. ”Just feel like we’ve got some guys out there, albeit had a rough day on Sunday, dropping the ball. But we’ve got guys open, and I think we’re getting better in understanding what we’re doing. So we’ve got to put the ball in their hands and find a way to do that, and I think this will give us an opportunity to do that.”
Once again, Russell’s work ethic was called into question. Cable didn’t mince words when he described the backup quarterbacks.
“I mean, he [Gradkowski] and Charlie (Frye) are absolutely pros,” Cable said, when asked about the how Gradkowski had handled the backup role. ”I mean, they’re here all the time. They’re here early. They’re here late. They study. They watch film. They talk about it. They draw it up. They involve they’re teammates to a great degree. Just what you’d expect.”
It was clear that Russell had not reached the same level of commitment.
“Well, I think this – I think those guys helped him in that area,” said Cable, ”in terms of putting in the time and what it takes to be prepared.”
Managing general partner Al Davis talked to Cable and supported the decision to bench Russell. While the Raiders have not completely given up on Russell, there certainly are cracks in the foundation. Cable stressed that Russell still is in the team’s long-term plans.
“That’s my hope,” said Cable. “This is in no way giving up on the guy. This is just trying to jump-start this team and really break it down and make a decision based on what gives us the best chance to win.”
That is far from an unwavering stamp of approval. It will be interesting to see how Russell handles the first real adversity he has faced at any level, be it high school, college or his three-year NFL career.
Gradkowski started his career as a sixth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006. He played under then-coach Jon Gruden in 2006 and ‘07 before being waived. He was picked up by the Cleveland Browns in December of 2008, where he made one start. The Browns waived him in February, and he was picked up the next day by the Raiders.
For his career Gradkowski has completed 53.1% of his passes, thrown 9 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and has 58.7 passer rating.
Gradkowski is 3-9 as a starting quarterback. Eleven of the starts came when he was a rookie with Tampa Bay.