What a change of scenery we faced this Sunday! Before we knew it, Easter dinner was over and Donovan McNabb was no longer an Eagle. Opting not to go to the lowly Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders but rather a contender in...the Washington Redskins?! Seriously, even though you cannot hear or see me right now, I am literally laughing out loud. Washington is, after all, only a declining superstar quarterback away from being competitive for one of those twelve coveted post season spots! Anyway, the reason why I am writing this is to remind the Nation that the Raiders were not in need of a quarterback this off-season before all the McNabb hoopla and they will survive and grow this year even without him.
Of course, the favorite to win the job this year is pseudo-journeyman quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The reason for the "pseudo" in front of "journeyman" is that he is not old enough to reach full journeyman status yet. For some odd reason, however, none of the usual "experts" think that Gradkowski can be the long term answer the Raiders need at quarterback.
While I respect the opinion of some of these naysayers, I have to say that, at very least, Gradkowski might soften the blow ofthe glaring quarterback mistake made by the Raiders in the 2007 draft. Some say that miscalculating on a top pick quarterback as the Raiders did can set a franchise back 10 years. Why, you might ask? Well, the team expects such a quarterback to take 2 to 3 years in development, plus another 1 to 2 years to prove he is worthy of the starting position. In addition to that, the team is expected to take as many as five MORE years developing someone else to play the position if the original pick doesn't work out.
Ironically enough, those same usual experts said that JaMarcus Russell was the best quarterback of the 2007 class. The best QB in that draft may end up being Kevin Kolb, who will replace the exiting McNabb for the Eagles.While a diamond in the rough like Gradkowski might make it possible for Oakland to skip all that baloney and make a serious run at their division or at least a wild card spot this year.
Gradkowski sits down with Greg Papa before his first start.
When Gradkowski was signed to play for Oakland last season, nobody expected him to play better than JaMarcus Russell, especially after the solid finish Russell had in the 2008 season. But Gradkowski provedthose expectionswrong. Did he play great football? Perhaps not, but he did play smart football. He protected the ball andhe got first downs. That should be the quarterback's primary focus. After all, doing those two things will, more often than not,result in points on the board. Speaking of it being "his" offense, Gradkowski took control of the huddle and became a leader on the field, the likes of which Raider fans have not seen since Rich Gannon. Yeah, I know... Rich Gannon. But love him or hate him, he was definitely the leader of that offense.
Gradkowski was able to motivate the offense to play as many of us thought they were capable of playing at the beginning of the year -- the same offense that JaMarcus Russell was completely unable to inspire. In the end, Gradkowski started just four games, but you can only credit him with one loss, on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas. Even in that game, the Raiders only lost the second quarter. If the entire game had been played like the other three quarters, the final score would have been much closer. The very next week, Gradkowski led the Raiders to victory over the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers while throwing for the first Raiders 300-yard passing game since 2007 when Daunte Culpepper did it. He earned offensive player of the week for his three TD passing effort. Need I remind you that he accomplished this with the sameoffense that had previously played putridly with JaMarcus Russell under center.
It looked like the lights were starting to come on for the Raider offense in the home game against the Washington Redskins in week 14 last season. Some people even bravely picked the Raiders to win in their office pools that week. The 'Skins were only up17-10 when the Raiders left the field at half time. Sadly, Gradkowski was suffered an injury late in the second quarter and that would bethe last time he would suit up in 2009. "It's just tough," Gradkowski said after the game. "It's tough because the past couple weeks I felt gave us great positive attitudes and energy, and then this happens. But you know stuff happens for a reason. We just have to battle back and we'll be all right."
Gradkowski brought a spark to this team. The Raiders, and perhaps more importantly Al Davis, should be happy to have a stand up guy like this available when the fake face of the franchise decides it's time to sit down. When the going got tough for the team last year, they turned to this nobody quarterback whom nobody wanted andhe didn't panic- Quitethe contrary. He stepped up and led his team to victory more than once. Even in relief of the Fat One against Kansas City after the bye week, "Radkowski" led the team on a game winning drive only to be shunned at the end by his own wide receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey, who had a pass hit him right in the numbers before the ball bounced off of his knees and was intercepted.
Bruce Gradkowski had this to say in a recent radio interview for KNBR:
"We are a good football team and the only thing we have to work on is being consistent and that's going to be the number one goal this year. I know no different than to be a blue collar guy, to work hard...if you just keep working hard, good things will come, and you'll get what you deserve. 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."
So, fear not Raider Nation. Your team has more immediate needs than a quarterback. If Gradkowski goes down with injuries again, at least he has two former first round draft choices to back him up in Russell and J.P. Losman. And let's not forget the workaholic coach-in-training Charlie Frye.
Oakland didn't need Donovan McNabb; McNabb needed Oakland. This Raider teamis the future of football, while the Redskins' glorycontinues tofade into the past. Radkowski did all of his heroics in an offensecoordinated by Tom Cable. Just imagine whathecould do with Hue Jackson in charge of the offense and developing skill players around him and Cable actually where he should be: coaching the offensive line. And let's not forgetthe Raiders'great quarterbacks coach, Paul Hackett.
In the words of Gradkowski; "[The Raiders] just have to battle back and we'll be alright."
-- Bret Armstrong, TFDS Guest Contributor