Gradkowski takes over at QB, says Raiders 'have to stay on course'

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Bruce Gradkowski doesn't expect the Oakland Raiders' offense to change much now that he's the starting quarterback.

Gradkowski, who replaced former No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell as the starter, said he's comfortable enough with the Raiders' playbook that there won't be a need to make any alterations.

"There might be a couple tweaks here and there, but we're just going to run the offense, do what we do and try to make some plays," Gradkowski said Thursday. "We have a lot of weapons. We just have to stay on course, keep doing what we're doing, keep working hard and things will fall into place."

Gradkowski will make just the 13th start of his NFL career Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals when the Raiders try to halt a three-game losing streak. The journeyman quarterback has played in two games this season, both times coming in relief of Russell.

In last Sunday's 16-10 loss to Kansas City, Gradkowski replaced Russell during the second half and led a late drive deep into Chiefs territory before he threw a pass that bounced off the chest of rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and was intercepted.

Despite the turnover, Gradkowski did enough in that game to convince Raiders coach Tom Cable and owner Al Davis to make a change and bench Russell, who has completed just 47.1 percent of his passes this season while garnering a meager 47.9 rating.

Cable made it clear that he doesn't view this as a one-game tryout, either. Gradkowski will be the Raiders' starting quarterback for the foreseeable future while Russell serves as the primary backup.

"It's good knowing it's for the rest of the season, but you also just have to take it one game at a time," Gradkowski said. "In this league, you just have to focus on one week at a time and take it as it comes. That's all I'm doing right now."

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The Raiders believe Gradkowski can add a spark to an offense that ranks at or near the bottom of the NFL in every meaningful offensive category and has scored just seven offensive touchdowns all season. Oakland is averaging just 222 yards per game and has 21 turnovers, second-most in the league.

At the same time, the coaching staff hopes the time off will benefit Russell, Oakland's No. 1 overall pick in 2007.

Russell, who has kept a low profile since being benched against the Chiefs, has thrown for just 1,067 yards with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has been booed at every home game since the season-opening loss to the San Diego Chargers while Gradkowski has been greeted with rousing cheers in the two games in which he replaced Russell.

Russell wasn't available for comment this week but stayed after practice Thursday to put in extra work with some of the Raiders' receivers.

"Sometimes to step back and watch and see can be very positive," said Ted Tollner, Oakland's passing-game coordinator. "I've seen where it happened to veteran guys where it turned out being positive, but it definitely can help a younger guy who hasn't really gotten that many years and that many games behind him to stand back and watch the game and look at it from that perspective."

Part of the Raiders' problem has been a serious lack of production from their wide receivers. Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall selection in the draft last April, has just six catches for 96 yards, and fellow rookie Louis Murphy has 16 receptions for 232 yards.

Chaz Schilens, who missed the first eight games of the season while recovering from a foot injury suffered in training camp, provided a little boost against the Chiefs last week.

Gradkowski started 11 games as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006, but he quickly fell out of favor, playing in four games as a backup the following season. He signed with the St. Louis Rams prior to the 2008 season but was cut in training camp, then signed with the Cleveland Browns, with whom he spent most of his time on the bench.

Gradkowski is more mobile and agile than Russell, but Cable said the change at quarterback won't alter Oakland's offense.

"Because there's so many others involved, we need to stay the course," Cable said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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