Monday, April 05, 2010

Can Bruce Almighty lead Raiders to promised land?

Fifth in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Quarterback – Bruce Gradkowski, JaMarcus Russell, Charlie Frye, JP Losman

The media loves to focus on JaMarcus Russell but the fact is he finished 2009 third on the depth chart and may be a non-factor or an ex-Raider when the 2010 season opens. Gradkowski finished 2009 the injured favorite of his teammates and opens the off-season the leader of the team.

Bruce Gradkowski – Comp 54.7%, 1,007 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, 80.6 Rating

The accepted theory is that Gradkowski has the leadership, accuracy, mobility and smarts to run the offense but just can’t throw deep. That theory is flawed. Russell may have a stronger arm but Gradkowski is a better deep ball QB. The fact is Gradkowski can throw deep and does so with accuracy. With almost 100 fewer attempts in 2009, Gradkowski had 12 pass plays over 20 yards and two over 40 compared to Russell (10 / 2). He averaged 12.3 yards per completion to Russell’s 10.7.

The other theory is Gradkowski is a career journeyman. If he is then the Raiders should label Russell a career bust. Gradkowski has 16 career starts compared to Russell’s 24 and has never got starter type attention or reps in training camp or practice. It is too early to call Gradkowski the next Gannon or Plunkett but consider two facts and there is cause for hope. Gradkowski’s 80.6 rating in 2009 was the highest of any Raider QB since Gannon in 2003. More importantly he is the first QB since Gannon who has inspired his teammates.

In this highlight package Gradkowski hits the 17-yard out to Higgins and the bomb to Murphy among others.

JaMarcus Russell – Comp 48.8%, 1,287 yards, 3 TD, 11 INT

So if Russell loses weight it means he’ll be a good QB? Weight, like arm strength is one of those measurable attributes that time and again are proven useless when it comes to the most immeasurable position in sports, NFL quarterback. If Russell comes to camp weighing 225 pounds (right) he’ll only have about a half-dozen other problems to fix. Truth be told, Russell’s weight is only a problem because he is so bad. Watch old footage of Jim Plunkett versus Dan Fouts and I guarantee you’ll never hear anyone worrying about how chunky they looked.

Accuracy is a huge problem. On a team built for speed does it make sense to have a QB who can’t hit a moving target? Most of Russell’s completions come on hooks, curls and routes where the receiver sits in a zone. His attempts to throw with touch down the field are usually over the wrong shoulder or out-of-bounds. To throw deep in today’s NFL a QB has to be aware in the pocket. Russell seems unaware of the rush even when it is coming right at him. His lack of awareness has resulted in 25 career fumbles in 24 starts.

The biggest problem has is his lack of understanding and leadership. The Raiders ran Camp Russell in 2009 and he still seemed clueless. How many times will coach Cable have so say they are simplifying the playbook for Russell? He obviously lost the confidence of his teammates last year and has a lot to prove.

Charlie Frye and JP Losman

The two former quarterbacks of the future on other teams are unknown commodities in the Raiders system. They could both make the team if Russell comes to camp looking terrible and the team decides to cut him in a year when there will be no salary cap repercussions. Don’t be shocked if the team drafts a QB or acquires one elsewhere.

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