First in a series taking a look at Raiders position groups as the NFL teams convene in Indianapolis this week for the scouting combine:
Starter: Bruce Gradkowski/JaMarcus Russell. Backups: Charlie Frye, J.P. Losman.
Review: Any progress Russell made at the end of the 2009 seemed to evaporate from the time of the season finale against Tampa Bay to the first public workouts of the offseason. He was sluggish and inaccurate from the outset of minicamps and OTAs, failing to complete even the most basic passes. The decision to sign Jeff Garcia as a backup and/or mentor had little effect as it was made clear to both men Russell was the unquestioned starter.
When training camp arrived, Russell continued to struggle and Garcia, who looked as if he regretted his decision to sign with the Raiders, missed significant practice time with a calf strain and eventually requested to be released at the final cutdown.
Gradkowski was suddenly the backup instead of hoping to remain as No. 3. Russell, saddled with a young receiving corps, spotty protection and a running game the Raiders thought would be better, never got on track in terms of preparation, performance and leadership. When Tom Cable went to Gradkowski with the blessing of Al Davis, players fell all over themselves with glowing tributes to the hard work and leadership skills of the new starter. Rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy went so far as to call him “punctual.”
Only someone incapable of reading between the lines would miss the message _ Gradkowski was everything Russell was not in terms of many of the non-physical attributes needed by an NFL quarterback.
Gradkowski led the Raiders to a pair of come from behind victories (Cincinnati and Pittsburgh) and gave the Raiders some of their best quarterback play since Kerry Collins in 2005 (admittedly, that’s not setting the bar at the level of a consistent winner). A pair of torn MCLs brought in Frye, another worker bee who even contributed to game plans.
Losman was brought in when Gradkowski was injured after leading Las Vegas to a UFL title.
Contract status: Russell remains under contract and stands to make $9.45 million this season. Gradkowski is a restricted free agent. Frye will be a restricted free agent unless a collective bargaining agreement is reached before March 5, making him unrestricted. Losman is an unrestricted free agent.
What’s next: If the Raiders are seriously looking at quarterback prospects in Indianapolis, chances are it would be for a developmental player in a mid- to late round.
Considering the way Russell performed when handed the job with no competition, expect the Raiders to bring back Gradkowski and have a split-rep setup through the offseason and into training camp. This is a huge offseason for Russell, who took considerable heat from the TNT announcing crew for showing up at a Phoenix Suns game disguised as a jewelry store, including a diamond-encrusted figurine hanging from a chain in his own likeness.
There has been talk that Russell was actually in Phoenix to work out and get in shape. However, neither the Raiders nor Russell’s agents want any part of confirming what would be good news and positive publicity for his client. Why? Maybe it’s just because that’s how the Raiders operate, or maybe it’s because they’d like to see some real change before being too effusive in their comments.
Rest assured new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Davis talked about Russell at length. It will be Jackson’s job not only to be firm with Russell, but also rebuild his confidence.
Judging from the way 2009 went down, the Raiders have hopefully told Russell he’ll have to earn all the playing time he gets and give Gradkowski a legitimate chance to win the job. Russell has to win back a lot of teammates who are rightly concerned about his maturity and dedication.
The veteran crop of free agents is uninspiring.
A link to prospects at the scouting combine on Raiders.com is here.