When the Oakland Raiders signed Bruce Gradkowski in February of 2009, nobody expected him to be the subject of two Raiders’ quarterback controversies. Heck, for all we knew, it was just another camp arm that was brought in on the suggestion of new QB’s coach Paul Hackett, who had worked with Bruce in Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden. Nobody expected him to be the reason why JaMarcus Russell would be riding the pine halfway through the season. But when the team was going through a tough time last year, they turned to this nobody quarterback that nobody else wanted and we all watched as Gradkowski took control of the Raiders’ huddle. He became a leader on the field the likes of which the Raiders had not seen since Rich Gannon’s MVP season in 2002.
Did he play great football? Perhaps not. But he played very smart football, protecting the ball from turnovers and getting first downs; all while not being afraid to take those shots to his young and inexperienced wide receivers. For his short stint as the Raiders’ starting quarterback, he did his part to help grow this offense into something special.
Shortly after the 2009 season ended, Gradkowski said, “In my heart, I want to be in Oakland. I believe I’ll be in Oakland and I want to be here for years to come. I just feel a good presence here, especially with the fan base we have. It’s the best in football and they care about their team and I want to give them something to look forward to.”
He was endeared to the Raider Nation, and vice versa. It was just earlier this season when the Raider Nation took part in the benching of newcomer Jason Campbell by chanting “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce!” just prior to halftime of the Raiders home opener against the St. Louis Rams. The coaches listened, and following the half Bruce Gradkowski took the field for the first time in the 2010 season. Following that game, Tom Cable would name Gradkowski the starter as long as he was able to play. That was his stigma, the injury issues, if it wasn’t one thing it was another with him.
But Cable was endeared to the man also. After all, Gradkowski’s single-handed improvement to Cable’s offense made it appear as though JaMarcus Russell was the problem in the equation rather than the guy calling the plays. Plus, it was just hard not to like the guy’s fire, energy, and attitude. So even though Cable had said, on the first day of training camp, that Jason Campbell would be the guy behind center for the Raiders in 2010, it was easy to see why Cable would have a change of heart so quickly. And Raider Nation sure wasn’t protesting the change.
It was also clear from the first snap of the season that Jason Campbell was not ready to be the guy for the Raiders. Campbell struggled mightily to get on the same page with the other skill players. His struggles behind the porous pass blocking of the offensive line were dreadful. He was making Mike Shanahan look like he actually knew what he was doing when he traded a former first round pick for a fourth round pick in a draft two seasons in the future.
I had said in an article I wrote in April that the Raiders already had their quarterback moving forward and that Gradkowski was that guy. I even went so far as to say that the Raiders should look at backups from other teams before they made a move for Campbell. While Campbell had the drive and heart that JaMarcus Russell lacked, I feared he was short on the instincts that had made Bruce Gradkowski so successful in the short-term. And with the way Campbell started the season off, he was making me look like a genius.
But I should’ve seen the inevitable coming. I had my “Bruce blinders” on and was unable to see things clearly because of my infatuation with a guy who was actually capable of winning in Oakland. I should’ve listened when almost everybody and their grandmother was saying that Gradkowski would get hurt, that he was too fragile, and that he was too small. Inexorably, Gradkowski suffered an injury that put an end to his season and most likely his career as an Oakland Raider.
I know some people like to say he is a good backup quarterback or that he will work in a pinch, but that’s not what Bruce wants for himself. To keep him in Oakland at the end of this season is wrong. It leaves Jason Campbell staring over his shoulder all the time and it gives Gradkowski the false hope that he could still be the guy. Frankly, it would be a bad decision. The Raiders need to either cut ties or attach another free agent tender to him and take what they can get in a trade.
But, I just want to say this before Bruce leaves the Alameda County area for what could be the last time. It is because of Bruce that some of this talent the Raiders have discovered on their roster has reached the level it is at now. It was Gradkowski who pushed these offensive guys to prepare their hardest through the week and believed in them when nobody else did. It was Bruce Gradkowski who saved Tom Cable from inevitable expulsion from the Raiders’ head coaching position last year. And it was Bruce Gradkowski who pushed Jason Campbell to go from an okay game manager to a guy on the verge of greatness. Now, I know some of you are going to read that and say, “On the verge of greatness?” in the comments section below. And I say bring it on. Mark my words and reiterate them in your head until you cannot take it anymore. Yeah I said it.
Call it Gradkowski’s last hoorah as a Raider, to take this quarterback who looked like garbage at the beginning of the year and push him to the point where he had to work harder than he already was. Credit Gradkowski for lighting that competitive fire under Campbell’s ass as it was Gradkowski who forced Jason Campbell to grow faster than any of the progress he was making in Washington during his five seasons there. Secretly, it was Gradkowski that was the driving force behind Jason Campbell’s excellent performance this past week and all of those that have yet to come.
You should always remember Gradkowski as the guy who gave the Raiders what he wanted to be for them and couldn’t, their quarterback of the future.
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