Bruce Gradkowski can at least be comforted by the knowledge that his Pittsburgh homecoming can’t go any worse than it did last Dec. 28.
Starting for the Cleveland Browns less than a month after his arrival, Gradkowski was 5-for-16 for 31 yards and a pair of interceptions in a 31-0 loss. The Browns were punching the clock in the last game of the Romeo Crennel regime. The Steelers were sharpening up for a Super Bowl run.
Gradkowski had zero chance to succeed and a quarterback rating of 1.0.
He called it a “good experience” Thursday when talking to the local media, and when pressed, downgraded it to “an experience,” believing any playing time is worthwhile, regardless of the supporting cast.
“Going up against a great defense and not really knowing your own offense, it was quite an experience against a team that was on fire and headed to the Super Bowl,” Gradkowski said.
A Pittsburgh high school star at Seton-LaSalle, Gradkowski’s family will number more than 40 and he expects more than 100 people to be there.
“My family, my cousins, they’re die-hard Steeler fans. Last year when I was with the Browns it was hard for then,” Gradkowski said. “They wore neutral colors but I think being with the Raiders this past year and getting to know these guys and being with this team, I know I’ll have the family behind me on this one.”
Gradkowski plans on having some teammates over to his parents’ home for some home cooking, although he’s not sure where they’ll all fit.
Of a bigger concern is a Pittsbugh defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run (74.9 yards per game) and yet to allow an individual runner to break 100 yards this season, with Baltimore’s Ray Rice getting 88 last week for a season high against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh has been historically difficult to run against. Even in 2002, with running backs such as Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner, the Raiders abandoned the run and instead spread out the Steelers, throwing 41 times in the first half and 64 times in the game.
Gradkowski won’t be asked to do what Rich Gannon did, but chances are the Raiders will have to pass more than they run and they’ll need a 60 percent completion percentage and minimal turnovers to have a chance.
“They’re a good defense because they have a variety,” Gradkowski said. “They’re very good up front and they’re also good in the secondary.
“They don’t really lack in any position on defense, and they’re experienced. They’re led by (James) Farrior on defense and it shows. So they’re a good defense with experience and they’re going to change up the looks. We kind of have to be ready for anything.”
Defensive end Greg Elllis (knee) was not on the field for the second straight day as the Raiders concluded warmups and drills. Running back Justin Fargas (stinger) was practicing again.