Gradkowski doesn’t expect much change from Raiders
November 19, 2009
ALAMEDA – Bruce Gradkowski doesn’t expect the Oakland Raiders offense to change much now that he’s the starting quarterback.
Gradkowski, who replaces struggling former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, said he’s comfortable enough with the Raiders’ playbook that there won’t be a need to make any alterations.
“There might be a couple tweaks here and there, but we’re just going to run the offense, do what we do and try to make some plays,” Gradkowski said Thursday. “We have a lot of weapons. We just have to stay on course, keep doing what we’re doing, keep working hard and things will fall into place.”
Gradkowski will be making just the 13th start of his NFL career Sunday against Cincinnati when Oakland tries to halt a three-game losing streak. The journeyman quarterback has played in two games this season, both times coming in relief of Russell.
In last week’s 16-10 loss to Kansas City, Gradkowski replaced Russell in the second half and led a late drive deep into Chiefs territory before he threw a pass that bounced off the chest of rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and was intercepted.
Despite the turnover, Gradkowski did enough in that game to convince coach Tom Cable and owner Al Davis to make a change and bench Russell, who has completed just 47.1 percent of his passes this season while garnering a meager 47.9 rating.
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Cable made it clear he doesn’t view this as a one-game tryout, either. Gradkowski will be the Raiders’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future while Russell serves as the primary backup this week against the Bengals.
“It’s good knowing it’s for the rest of the season but you also just have to take it one game at a time,” Gradkowski said. “In this league, you just have to focus on one week at a time and take it as it comes. That’s all I’m doing right now.”
The Raiders believe Gradkowski can add a spark to an offense that ranks at or near the bottom of every meaningful offensive category and has scored just seven offensive touchdowns all season. Oakland is averaging just 222 yards a game and has 21 turnovers, second-most in the NFL.
At the same time the coaching staff hopes the time off will benefit Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.
Russell, who has kept a low profile since getting benched against the Chiefs, has thrown for only 1,067 yards with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s been booed at every home game since the season-opener against San Diego while Gradkowski has been greeted with rousing cheers in the two games he replaced Russell.
Russell wasn’t available for comment this week but stayed after practice Thursday to get extra work in with some of the Raiders’ receivers.
“Sometimes to step back and watch and see can be very positive,” said Ted Tollner, Oakland’s passing game coordinator. “I’ve seen where it happened to veteran guys where it turned out being positive, but it definitely can help a younger guy who hasn’t really gotten that many years and that many games behind him to stand back and watch the game and look at it from that perspective.”
Part of the problem for Oakland has been a serious lack of production from its wide receivers. Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall selection in the draft last April, has just six catches for 96 yards while fellow rookie Louis Murphy has 16.
Chaz Schilens, who missed the first eight games of the season while recovering from a foot injury suffered in training camp, provided a little boost against the Chiefs last week.
Gradkowski started 11 games as a rookie in Tampa Bay in 2006 but fell out of favor quickly, playing in four games as a backup the following season. He signed with the St. Louis Rams prior to the 2008 season but was cut in training camp then signed with Cleveland, where he spent most of his time on the bench.
Gradkowski is more mobile and agile than Russell but Cable said the change at quarterback won’t alter the offense.
“Because there’s so many others involved, we need to stay the course,” Cable said.