Passing game coordinator Ted Tollner’s thoughts Thursday on the Raiders quarterback switch and how it will affect the offense:
Q: What can you tell us about Bruce Gradkowski?
Tollner: Well, first thing I did was watch a lot of the Tampa film before he came here just to get a feel for him, because he had some game time experience when they had some injuries. He played well. He hasn’t played a lot in the NFL, but he played well, and we were excited about bringing him here to compete for some backup playing time, and he’s worked hard, and done a lot of good things, and we’ve been struggling, so we’re really looking to see whether he’s going to bring a spark, and he’s going to get an opportunity.
What happens out here in practice versus what happens on Sunday can be totally different, so we just want to see what he can bring to the table. Obviously we’re not happy with where we are for a lot of reasons, and not just JaMarcus, for a lot of reasons, so you make, Tom’s talked to you about that, now he gets an opportunity, and we’ll see what he brings to the table. I mean, out here, he’s got composure and command of our system, even though he hasn’t got nearly the number of snaps JaMarcus has to this point, but he understands it, and he’s anxious to see what happens on game day.
Q: Run the same offense as if JaMarcus was on the field, or use plays that accentuate Gradkowski’s specific strengths?
Tollner: Well, it’s pretty much the same, but, obviously, we talk to them tall the time, within the package, where’s your comfort zone based on how they handle it out here, and each of them, have, within the system we haven’t changed anything, it’s just you might draw a little bit more here, one guy may like this on third down, one guy may like that. As long as it complements what we’re trying to do and it’s in our system, then we would try to, that’s the way, if we’re going to, if we swing it one way or the other that’s how it would be, but it wouldn’t be to change dramatically anything.
Each guy brings a little bit something else to the table that he likes to do, certain routes he likes, certain kinds of movement he likes, protections, and you try and give that to him within the system. So, to answer you, there’s no real dramatic changes but you may pull a little heavier from one area than the other.
Every week we go into it with a dropback plan, a playaction plan, a movement plan, a screen plan, a third-down plan, a red zone plan, and then within that there’s a group of plays, and we’re always, we like them for a reason, but you always want to get a feedback from them, what do you feel good about. Normally my experience, certain things they like, and they kind of take ownership of it. They want that called more often, so that’s the only way that would be affected.
Q: Cable says getting ball to wideouts was key . . .for whatever reason wasn’t happening with JaMarcus, will it get better with Gradkowski?
Tollner: There’s no question we’ve got to get them involved, but last week, we had some opportunities for them, and JaMarcus made some beautiful throws. I mean, you think about the one down the boundary that was called back for kind of a tripping call, that if you looked at it, it was a hell of a throw that he made. And the deep one he made that was dropped, so he made some plays, but that’s kind of been what happened for us this year. When one guy makes his part of it, somebody else doesn’t.
Or sometimes we made a play and we had a penalty, so both guys, as far as the thrower and the receiver made a play, but there was a penalty somewhere else. So the combination of all that, but the bottom line is what Tom did say, we need to find a way to get our receivers involved in a consistent basis so they don’t gang up on run and Zach.
Q: Might be a good thing as a young QB to sit back and watch?
Tollner: I don’t think there’s any question that that’s accurate. Even a veteran sometimes, the game, there’s so much stress and pressure every week, and all of it, in that position, is more than probably fair, falls on that position. We all know how that goes.
Sometimes to step back, and watch and see, can be very positive. 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 a it from that perspective. That’s what we’re hoping for.
Q: Is it a similar situation to your time in San Francisco with No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, with Shaun Hill a career backup?
Tollner: I think to some degree there is. Now when I was with them, Shaun was competing and he kept getting hurt so he was kind of eliminated through the injury but he was able to stand back and watch. Shaun did some things that maybe Alex didn’t do and now Alex’s getting a turn.
I haven’t studied it but I guess he’s performing pretty well right now so I think that would be a fair example of what you hope happens when a guy steps back. They’re kind of in the same role, first pick in the draft and you hear all the controversy about all the things that are said and they have to be strong willed because they hear so much negative. I know Alex went through it and JaMarcus goes through it but I do think stand back, evaluate and when you do get that next chance, make that be a positive experience that you stood back.
Q: What does Bruce bring what to the table?
Tollner: The thing you have to be careful of is he’s played and he’s come in when the we were behind so you get out of your normal in-sync rhythm of what you want to do to mix run and pass, now he’s going to start a game, and we get a chance to see him in that condition instead of throw every down. But what I did see when he got a chance to play in Tampa is that he can do that. He can handle the run, the play-action pass, the two-minute system, pretty much he’s been kind of in a two-minute role, when he played, and that’s totally different. When it’s a two-minute and you’re behind, you’re going to complete some balls, and he’s done well when he’s in that roll. Now you start the game, there’s an altogether different pressure on you to perform and he’s excited about the opportunity and we’re anxious to see how he does.
Q: Way he moves, similar to Garcia? Similarities?
Tollner: To some degree there is, and he admires Jeff Garcia from their time at Tampa together and they were good friends, and yes, he does have some of that stuff, that make it happen if it gets out of rhythm, you’ve got a rhythm to every pass, and some guys like it when the rhythm isn’t there and they push and they scramble and they find a third guy and they check it down, and he likes to do that, and that sometimes gives you a real bonus play. We’re anxious to see if that happens now, because the way he’s in a game to this point for us, he couldn’t do that because we needed to make bigger plays and score points because we didn’t have that much time left in the game.
Q: See different energy today with a QB change?
Tollner: Well, from Bruce, but no, our players are good, they’re going to support who’s in there. They want to win, and if Tom made the decision to look a different direction right now, all they want is like any player, they want everybody to do their job and perform and they hope that Bruce will bring something to the table that will give us a chance to win, and that’s the whole purpose of it. So to say it’s a different energy, no. They were the same way with JaMarcus in my opinion, and they wanted him to be successful. He’s their quarterback, we want to win. I don’t know what was said behind closed doors but I know what I see on the field and they’re supportive of the guy that’s playing.
Q: Can he make all the throws?
Tollner: He does, what little bit, I think he got 15 starts or so at Tampa, and he’s done those kind of things, on our practice field, he has, now we have to see in this situation, with our players, can you do it. He can physically do it, but when you get the competition on the field, especially a good Cincinnati team that’s playing good defense right now, you get to really evaluate it, is he ready for it or not? We obviously believe he brings that to the table now or Tom wouldn’t have made the decision to look at him this week. Now he’s going to get the opportunity to prove it.
Q: Expand playbook, keep the same . . .
Tollner: We talked about that earlier. It’s basically the same but you may draw different parts on it based on what they like and what we think they do, so there may be some, but as far as the overall plan, no. We just need to execute it better. That would be a more accurate assessment.