News, notes and quotes from the Raiders open locker room and Tom Cable’s post-walkthrough press briefing:
— On a weekly television appearance on a local Sunday night postgame show, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha talked about having to prepare for two quarterbacks for this week’s game in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
Raiders coach Tom Cable seemed to have little doubt as to which one will be the starter.
“All indications are Ben (Roethlisberger) will be back,” Cable said.
The Steelers, who lost overtime games to Kansas City and Balitmore over the past two weeks, turned to San Leandro High School and Oregon product Dennis Dixon against Baltimore. Dixon started the season as the No. 3 quarterback and was elevated to No. 2 when Charlie Batch was lost fo rthe season to a wrist injury.
When it was determined Roethlisberger had not sufficiently recovered from concussion symptoms sustained against the Chiefs, Dixon played against Balitmore and his 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter had the Steelers in position to win.
However, the Pittsburgh defense allowed the Ravens to drive for the tie at regulation, and Dixon’s overtime interception to rookie Paul Kruger against a zone blitz set up Baltimore’s winning field goal.
— Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski talked glowingly about returning to Pittsburgh, noting it was the third time he had started in his home town. Gradkowski was a star quarterback at Seton-La Salle High School in the city and his father is a longtime employee in the business department of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It’s always exciting getting back to Pittsburgh,” Gradkowski said. “My whole family’s from Pittsburgh and grew up watching the Steelers.”
Gradkowski remembers going to games at Three Rivers Stadium and said his family and friends could number 100, although fortunately he’s not entrusted with the ticket details.
“They already told me, `Hey, don’t worry about it, we’ll find our own tickets,’ ” Gradkowski said. “That’s good they know I am thinking about a lot of things, that I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”
Foremost among them is having some success in Pittsburgh beyond the glory days of high school.
Gradkowski started the season finale for Cleveland last season in Pittsburgh, and had a start as a rookie in 2007 with Tampa Bay. In the two games, Gradkowski was 25-for-50 for 193 yards, no touchdowns, five interceptions and was sacked eight times. His Heinz Field quarterback rating is 20.3 and his teams lost by a combined 51-3.
— If finally getting into the end zone is a relief for Darrius Heyward-Bey, he wasn’t showing it.
“Tell you the truth, I really haven’t looked at it that way,” Heyward-Bey said. “It’s like, a touchdown was what we needed at the time, and now if I can help out the team more, it’ll be great.”
Cable said Monday the Raiders were very close to connecting on plays which could have gone for big yardage and sustained drives. Toward that end, following a walkthrough, quarterbacks, receivers and running backs were still on the field, working on their timing.
“We’re an inch away from being a good passing offense,” Heyward-Bey said. “We understand that. We wish we weren’t an inch away. We wish we were hitting those. It’s positive. It’s a good thing to look at. Going into these last five games, we hope we just hit those big plays and go into the offseason with a good feeling.”
— With Trevor Scott starting at weak side linebacker, it meant fewer snaps for Thomas Howard, although Howard did get some work on the strong side and on the weak side when Scott was rushing the passer.
Cable, however, did not dispel the notion that Howard’s game could use some work.
“I think you always try to do what gives you a good chance to succeed, so if you want to improve an area you make a move like we did, and certainly Trevor was able to go in and back it up,” Cable said.
In 2007, Howard had a breakout year with six interceptions, including touchdown returns of 44 and 66 yards. In his last 29 games, Howard has one interception and both he and Kirk Morrison have occasionally had problems disengaging from blockers against the run.
— Gary Russell, the fullback who returned one kickoff 17 yards against Dallas and appeared to almost go down voluntarily when he hit a wall, will get another crack at it against his former team, Cable said. Russell scored the first touchdown of the Steelers Super Bowl win over Arizona on a 1-yard run.
— Cable said defensive end Greg Ellis, who left the Dallas game with knee swelling, and running back Justin Fargas, who has a stinger, are questionable to face Pittsburgh.
Cable said the short week, combined with playing on artificial surface probably took its toll on Ellis.
— JaMarcus Russell has not been available to the media since losing his job to Gradkowski. As for how Russell is faring in his new role, Cable said, “I don’t really see any change whatsoever. He’s working, doing what he’s asked to do. He’s preparing like normal. So I wouldn’t say there was any change or anything I’ve noticed.”
— Nick Miller update _ getting out of a protective boot this week, Raiders will attempt to determine if it’s realistic to get him rehabbed fast enough so he can be of some service this season.