Let's Go Ski
Cable made the right move by benching Russell although it should have happened a few games ago. Bruce Gradkowski gets the opportunity to prepare as the starter this week, get 1st unit reps., and have a game plan tailored to his strengths.
Gradkowski does a few key things proficiently that Russell has yet to demonstrate on a consistent basis:
(1) Ski moves within and outside the pocket much better than Russell. He has better footwork, nimbleness, decisiveness, and quickness when avoiding the pass rush. His mobility gives the team a chance to make positive plays when the pocket breaks down.
(2) Ski throws a more accurate, catchable ball which allows the Raiders WRs more opportunities to secure the ball and get YAC.
(3) Ski is more engaging when interacting with teammates. The bounce in his step, his energy, can-do spirit, and sense of urgency are important game managing traits. Getting quickly in and out of the huddle, taking control at the line of scrimmage, and having more time to audible out of a play call benefits the offensive unit.
There is no doubt that Gradkowski has a tall order to face in his first starting assignment against an elite Bengals defense. However, I thing this change at QB will give the offense a spark and new direction.
Having Russell sit and watch from the sidelines for 1 game, 2 games, or the rest of the season will hopefully recalibrate his career purpose and dedication. At this point in time, in a lost season, Russell's sense of entitlement has been officially revoked. He either hits the alarm button or goes to the snooze button.
My general feeling is that Gradkowski is getting an audition for his role in 2010. I don't see him as anything more than a stop gap measure and serviceable back up. Russell hasn't proven to be even a remotely competent signal caller through 9 games. Whether the Raiders sign a veteran free agent QB, draft another QB, or let Gradkowski, Frye, and Russell battle it out in an open competition next spring is unknown.
With Cable's job in serious jeopardy due to poor performance on the field and controversy off the field, a new head coach will need to provide input in evaluating the QB position for next season. Just like the previous 6 seasons, there are many unsettled issues that need to be resolved.
At the top of this list is the QB position, the Head Coach, and the vacancy at GM which is typically the heart and soul of a team's leadership and vision. Ideally, I would love to see these 3 areas of concern addressed in reverse order: Hire a GM. Let the GM choose a Head Coach. Then let the Head Coach size up the best QB for his team. Is that asking for too much? I guess so considering these 3 areas have been in flux and grave disappointments for 6+ years running.