Bruce Gradkowski struggled through much of Friday morning’s practice, throwing an interception to defensive tackle William Joseph and moments later having a deep throw to Phil Hubbard intercepted by Joey Thomas.
After missing minicamps and OTAs because of a torn pectoral muscle, there was going to be some rust. Truth be told, Gradkowski didn’t exactly tear it up during camp last year, where it seemed he and Charlie Frye were in a virtual dead heat to be the third quarterback until Jeff Garcia voluntarily ejected.
Where Gradkowski’s magic manifested itself last year was on Sundays, where he went from a guy who was sent packing by both St. Louis and Cleveland to the quarterback dubbed “Bruce Almighty” by announcer Greg Papa.
He came off the bench for JaMarcus Russell and gave the Raiders a chance to win against Kansas City until a pass bounced off the hands of Darrius Heyward-Bey for an interception, and directed stirring wins against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the latter drawing national attention.
So Gradkowski has a body of work which allows him to be both diplomatic and optimistic even though Jason Campbell has already been anointed the starting quarterback.
He understands that the torn pectoral muscle puts him a little behind, but thinks he’s built a line of credit which should serve him well.
“I feel great about last year went. I know it carries weight around here, especially with my teammates, and that’s all I care about, but you know, you’re only as good as your last game,’’ Gradkowski said.
Given his energy and ability to produce off the bench, Gradkowski has the look of the classic backup _ a label that can be a blessing or a curse.
“You could take it two ways. I feel like I would be the best backup but I also feel like I’d be the best starter,’’ Gradkowski said. “You have that confidence and whatever my role is, I know that I’m going to be ready to play.’’
A few more notes and storylines:
– Chaz Schilens didn’t practice Thursday morning and probably won’t be back on the field until Friday at the earliest.
It was pretty clear listening to coach Tom Cable and Schilens he won’t the ground running after a second foot surgery following the season.
“There’s no damage, anything like that. It’s sore,’’ Cable said. “ going to have to work with him to find out what his workload is, what he can and can’t do.
“It’s not great, but it’s something I can manage,’’ Schilens said.
Camp for Schilens will include dialing meetings from the athletic training staff to determine how much he does.
“We’re probably going to have to deal with it from here on out . . . it’s a little bit of a work in progress to find out how much he can do each day. He’ll probably be limited to a one-a-day deal and then go from there.’’
– Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and his kindred spirit, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, spent a second consecutive practice taking 10 minutes to work on technique while others were heading into the field house.
Asomugha, in 2003, was so unknown out of Cal commissioner Paul Tagliabue didn’t know how to pronounce his name when it was announced at No. 31 overall. He was labeled a classic Al Davis reach, a projection more than a player.
Fast forward to last year and Heyward-Bey, a height-weight-speed receiver whose pick drew mostly criticism.
Asomugha struggled to get his sea legs. You know the story with Heyward-Bey.
“I talked to him last year about it,’’ Asomugha said of their parallel careers. “I haven’t talked to him as much about it this year because I don’t want to keep that in his head.
“But last year, I guess at midseason, I pulled him aside and we had a long conversation about it, not getting down on himself and those sorts of things.’’
As much as Heyward-Bey shrugged off questions about being disappointed last year, Asomugha knows the criticism stung.
“It hurt him what happened last year,’’ Asomugha said. “Naturally he didn’t feel good about the things that were said. It’s not like it was a secret. He knew that he didn’t play well. That hurt him. This year it looks like he’s had a different purpose.’’
The post practice sessions are at Asomugha’s request, attempting to help school Heyward-Bey as well as get additional work himself.
– Campbell has something common with Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, Andrew Walter, Russell and Gradkowski.
When in doubt, throw it to No. 80.
The plan this year is to have a few more of those catches wind up in the end zone. Of Miller’s 166 career receptions in three seasons, only seven have resulted in touchdowns _ one every 23.7 catches.
“When you look at him, we have done a poor job of utilizing him in the red zone,’’ Cable said. “So, if you just start right there, see where he would impact that part of the field, that would really raise his game, to a whole new level.”
Said Miller:“You see other tight ends in the league scoring a lot of touchdowns and you get a little envious. You want to be in there celebrating the touchdowns and I believe this year, finally, will be the year it comes.’’
– No pads until Monday, but the Friday morning practice was again a far cry from last year’s “learning-intensive sessions,’’ where the Raiders rarely carried a play to completion.
“I think it’s a little bit of wanting to go a little more, a little more itchy,’’ Cable said. “We all kind of feel that way, but at the same time, we want to get everything taught in these situations in the first four days so you’ve got to hold back a little bit and have balance with it.’’
There were team and seven-on-seven sessions with legitimate competition, if not actual all-out contact. The morning session consisted of predominantly third-down work.
“This is not a walk-through,’’ tackle Langston Walker said. “They may call it that, but it’s pretty much full-go for offensive and defensive linemen.’’