Is this a new era? A breath of fresh air? The Raiders think it could be a bit of both with fourth year signal caller Bruce Gradkowski, who has officially relieved JaMarcus Russell of quarterback duties for the foreseeable future (so Cable claims).
Last Sunday, Gradkowski went 17-34 for 183 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and one interception in a 20-17 win over the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals. Gradkowski was good on 50% of his passes with a 73.5 quarterback rating. Not great, but not too bad either. Especially considering JaMarcus Russell was much worse in almost all of those categories.
Gradkowski tied Russell’s total for touchdowns (2) on the season in one game, but let’s not declare him the savior quite yet and certainly we should not give up on JaMarcus Russell.
The difference between Gradkowski and Russell now is not just one thing, or two. Gradkowski has shown leadership, work ethic, athleticism, pocket awareness, accuracy and last but not least, accountability. Russell has displayed an utter lack of these qualities consistently; both on and off the field. From being fined for showing up overweight to camp, to blaming the receivers for not being in the right spots while accepting no blame for his poor performances.
What will this benching and new-found love for Gradkowski do to Russell?
It will either make Russell into a hard-working, in-shape, accountable and more accurate quarterback who is hungry to trot out on the field once again and show the fans and media why he was drafted number one overall in 2007. Or it will become his final NFL resting place. This is the ultimate test for JaMarcus, after being handed the starting job the past two seasons.
The players and the coaches have spoken in great detail about the backup quarterback’s play and how he approaches the game. Will that be enough motivation for JaMarcus? If the team rallies around Gradkowski and wins a few more, then Al Davis has a dilemma. He might just have to sit Russell next year as well and tell him Gradkowski is the starter until further notice. It’s what is known as “The Vince Young treatment”.
Although, this would definitely require Gradkowski to get the younger receivers more involved. If they can play fairly well the rest of the way, along with a few more wins, he could keep the job going forward. Remember the man who drafted JaMarcus and said he was, “A great player”? That’s the guy who can easily tell coach Cable who will be starting at quarterback for the Raiders at any given time. So if you are thinking Russell is out of the picture for the rest of this season, don’t get your hopes up. Tom Cable is treading water right now at 3-7, so it’s not like he has the clout to sway Mr. Davis every week to sit Russell.
Gradkowski could still be a long shot to remain the starter throughout the rest of the season, unless he plays extremely well. He played quite well against the Bengals considering what little he has to work with at the receiver position. Afterall, It was his first start in a couple years. But to say he played “great” is an overstatement.
Every game the Raiders lose, is one step closer to another overhaul of the coaching staff. The starting quarterback and head coach have to go into every Sunday like there is no tomorrow to “stay the course,” because right now that course has only produced three wins and the benching of Al Davis’ quarterback of the future.
It’s a short week for the Raiders who travel to Dallas to play on Thanksgiving. Will we see the Raiders team that came off of a win to get beaten in every aspect of the game by the Denver Broncos and New York Jets? Or will we see the Raiders give thanks to their fans with back-to-back wins for the first time this season?
Here’s a tip: Don’t hold your breath.
–AJ DeMello, TFDS Guest Contributor