Raiders

Gutierrez: Tom Cable's confusing QB carousel

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Gutierrez: Tom Cable's confusing QB carousel

Nov. 29, 2010
GUTIERREZ ARCHIVE
RAIDERS PAGE RAIDERS VIDEO

Paul Gutierrez
CSNCalifornia.com

"It's clear cut. There's no issue there in my mind. What we've done (are) some nice things in the last two weeks. You've got to take your hat off to Jason, nice job on his part, as well as the rest of the offensive players. But we know who our quarterback is." Raiders' coach Tom Cable on Nov. 1, insisting that the then-injured Bruce Gradkowski was Oakland's starting quarterback over Jason Campbell, despite Campbell having led the Raiders to consecutive blowout wins over Denver and Seattle by a combined 92-17.

OAKLAND -- Tom Cable was an unknown commodity when Al Davis tabbed him to replace Lane Kiffin after four games of the 2008 season. Not even the Raiders owner was completely sure to whom he was handing the reins over, what with Davis' private comments about him during that epic overhead projector media conference played in an oh-so public setting.

"Who's going to introduce Tom Cable?" Davis asked an assistant at the time. "I don't know that much about him. Get something. Get his press guide."

Cable was short on head coaching experience, but he more than made up for it with his player-friendly mien, the way the offensive line guru related to the grunts.

He was overmatched last season as a play-caller, who can ever forget that doomed-from-the-start fake field goal that called for Sebastian Janikowski to run 18 yards for a first down but resulted in a 67-yard touchdown for Kansas City in an eventual 20-13 defeat? Yet he accomplished something even more noteworthy. He changed the defeatist culture in the Raiders locker room.

All-Pro punter Shane Lechler even credited the rough-around-edges Cable, who survived charges of breaking assistant Randy Hanson's jaw in a training camp dustup and stories of domestic violence, as a beacon of belief. Lechler said there was nothing necessarily untrustworthy about Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell or Kiffin (on second thought about that guy), it was just that they could really trust Cable.

Except, here's the thing: Cable, who espouses the dogma of staying-the-course like some politico on a bully pulpit is sounding more and more like a politician.

"I really haven't wavered. But I do have a belief in me (that) when you're dealing with it and you got the hot hand and things are going in the right direction for your football team, why would you make a change?" Cable on Nov. 8, explaining why he was contemplating sticking with Campbell over Gradkowski.

Catch my drift?

Cable is walking a fine line. He is in danger of losing credibility and dividing a once-firmly united locker room with his flip-flopping at quarterback. What once was a mild curiosity has become needless drama.

Cable's silly game of cloak and dagger with not only the media, but the fans and the players themselves was a complete flop courtesy of the Raiders' 33-17 meltdown against an uninspiring Miami Dolphins team.

"(The) quarterback will be Jason. He will start at quarterback. He's earned the right to do that. Four out of the last five games are wins. And Bruce will back him up and we'll move forward from there." Cable on Nov. 15, re-affirming his decision to stick with Campbell, who had led the Raiders to their first three-game winning streak in eight years.

Applying logic while roaming the streets of Silver and Blackdom is always a tricky proposition. But we know this: Campbell is Davis' guy. Acquired him in a draft weekend trade, gave him an additional year on his contract and compared him to Jim Plunkett during camp. Gradkowski, meanwhile, is Cable's guy. Saved his skin last season in Pittsburgh. Did it again in this season's home opener against St. Louis.

Against the Dolphins, though? Not so much. This might serve as Cable's Waterloo.

"He'll be the starter next week. There is no issue there." Cable on Nov. 21, following the 35-3 loss at Pittsburgh and saying again, Campbell was his starter.

So what happened?

Against the Dolphins, it really didn't matter if the Raiders had Plunkett under center. Or Ken Stabler. Not when the running game could only muster 16 yards on the ground. Or when the defense could not get off the field and allowed 471 total yards, 186 rushing.

"Nothing else matters, muttered offensive tackle Khalif Barnes. "You've got to be able to move the rock in the trenches."

"You also have to have some semblance of continuity. Because while teammates have long claimed that it does not matter who is quarterback, it does. Especially with such strikingly divergent skill sets as those owned by the helter-skelterish Gradkowski and the more classically-trained Campbell."

"I didn't understand the whole thing," Campbell said after the game. "(Cable) explained to me that when Bruce is healthy, fully healthy, he goes back in as the starter. My thing was, in the Pittsburgh game (last week), I was like, well, he was healthy."

"And yet, Campbell started against the Steelers, was pummeled and replaced in the third quarter. So starts anew the talk that Campbell is caught in the middle of a familiar tug of war between coach and owner."

"It's not easy," Campbell said. "It's not an easy thing to be going through, by no means. You're a competitor, you like to compete, but by no means are you understanding or anything."

"It's kind of tough because you're caught right in between something and you don't know what's going on, don't really understand the situation. I'm just caught in between a tough place. You don't know which direction?"

Campbell caught himself and stopped himself from saying anything further. But it was obvious he was lost in the latest dysfunction.

"Gradkowski, meanwhile, was anything but the spark the Raiders needed in his first start since Oct. 10, when he suffered a separated shoulder against the Chargers. He threw for 252 yards on 17 of 32 passing with a touchdown and two interceptions. "

Were it not for the heroics of rookie receiver Jacoby Ford, Gradkowski's 63.5 passer rating would have been significantly more unsightly.

"I mean, it's tough," Gradkowski said when asked if he feared a divided locker room over the QB Carousel.

"But I think we're handling it well as a team. I think, especially in the QB room, we're all together. Throughout the game, Jason's talking to me. We just talk through things. And I think whatever decision coach makes, we just go with it."

"The players are going to respect whosever out there, and they're going to play hard no matter what."

We'll see.

"I've said all along when Bruce was 100 percent and ready to go and could do everything we needed to do, he'd be the starter. That was the reason for it." Cable following the loss to the Dolphins, explaining why Gradkowski started.

"And at that time he was. Then on Wednesday when we started practice they confirmed to me he was 100 percent healthy." Cable, when reminded he said the previous Sunday that Campbell was the starter.

The Raiders QB Carousel may have finally spun to a stop, though. Gradkowski injured his shoulder again on Oakland's final offensive play, a broken play that resulted in an incomplete shovel pass.

So, what have we learned? Well, from here on out, Campbell appears to be the starter. Until he's not.

What's your take? Email Paul and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

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USATSI

Norton looks at his Seahawks days to slow down Brady: 'I have a good feel'

ALAMEDA – Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has a good feel for Tom Brady. He faced New England’s legendary quarterback three times as Seattle’s linebackers coach, with some positive results. The Seahawks won two regular-season games and lost the Super Bowl at the last second.

He knows what worked then, and believes that should help prepare the Raiders defense for what’s coming Sunday in Mexico City.

“I played Brady a couple years ago in the Super Bowl with Seattle. We played very well against him,” Norton said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve had some success against him so I have a good feel for what can be done and what cannot be done. It’s just a matter of having the right emphasis and the ability to make the plays.

“Having a guy like (Brady) on the team who’s capable at any point of throwing a deep ball, capable at any point of getting it to the right players at the right time. He understands who is around him. He understands how to get the ball to the guys. He’s got a long resume of doing it well.”

Having success against Brady, however, is a relative term. He still produced against a loaded Seattle defense far better than this year’s Raiders unit. He will produce again Sunday, even if most goes right. Limitation, however, if key.

Norton believes certain things are essential when facing a Patriots team. Sure tackling. Impacting the quarterback.

The first is vital, something the Raiders have done well save a Week 9 win over Miami. The Raiders have to limit explosives and keep the ball in front of them, especially with the way Brady likes to play.

“The Patriots do a really good job of underneath coverage,” Norton said. “They have guys that catch and run really well. The backs, the tight ends, the matchups underneath, they catch and make people miss. They try to match up with your linebackers and safeties. They feel like their guys are pretty good. Tackling is something we’ve been really outstanding with all year but this last game against Miami we didn’t do so well and it kind of stands out, especially when it’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.

“I really feel like our emphasis and what we do well matches up well with that they try to do.”

There are some problem spots. One is limiting deep shots, something Brady has unleashed with startling efficiency. He’s 19-for47 for 410 yards and four touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards, with speedsters Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett able to haul them in. The Raiders have proven vulnerable to track-star receivers. 

Impacting Brady is mandatory, but also difficult given his excellent pocket presence. He’s especially good at feeling pressure off the edge, where reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack typically lines up opposite Bruce Irvin.

Brady has proven vulnerable to interior pressure, which is why Mario Edwards Jr. will be an X-factor on passing downs. He has four sacks this season and needs to break free in the backfield to force difficult decisions or, at the very lest, disrupt New England’s timing.

Brady gets rid of the ball fast at times. Raiders rushers can’t get frustrated by that, especially Mack.

“If the quarterback is going to throw the ball in less than two seconds, it’s going to be tough to get there,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “So when the quarterback is throwing the ball quick like that, we’ve got to tackle and have their punt team come out. They’ll get tired of punting or turning the ball over and they’ll sit and hold the ball a little bit and Khalil can get there. If they’re throwing the ball in two seconds or less, it’s going to be hard to get sacks.”

The Raiders only have 13 sacks this season, second worst in the NFL. Getting a few could swing a tight game. Norton’s Raiders believe they have a solid plan to mitigate somewhat the Patriots ferocious attack, that features versatile tight ends allowing them to do different things from one personnel package.

Don’t expect a shutout, or anything close. The Raiders understand that, but believe they can mitigate some damage.

“If you go back to the New England Patriots five, six, eight years ago they’re doing similar things,” Norton said. “They do what they do really well. They’re a fine-tuned machine. Everybody knows exactly what their role is. Guys know exactly what’s expected of them. Obviously the quarterback is the heart and soul and the one that makes that train run. Really, really good players that really understand what their role is and play well against leverage, run after catch, tough and they make plays.”

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

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AP

Khalil Mack wants to be Raider for life: 'That’s a no-brainer for me'

The Raiders gave quarterback Derek Carr a massive contract extension last June. Right guard Gabe Jackson got paid later that month.

Khalil Mack’s big deal is coming, likely this offseason. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie anticipates a deal getting done, and hopes Mack’s agent feels the same way.

Mack’s rep and Raiders contract folks will work out details of a massive contract extension. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have interest in all that. He has one preference above all.

Mack doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants to stay with the Raiders long term.

“Of course. That’s not even a question,” Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, which airs in this week's episode of "Raiders Central." “That’s a no-brainer for me, especially when you think about coming into this organization and try to build something special, that’s something you want to be a part of for a lifetime”

Mack has plenty of money, top-5 overall draft picks often do. The No. 5 selection in 2014 considered that first deal life-changing money, enough to help his family.

“That has been a treat for me so far,” Mack said.

He doesn’t daydream about signing a nine-figure contract. He doesn’t long to be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player (although that might be in the cards, anyway).

“I’m not really even thinking about that,” Mack said. “I’m thinking about the Patriots, that’s just my focus that’s just my mindset – anybody who talked to me about that matter, whether it be my best friend, my mom, my dad, I tell them the same thing. I’m thinking about the Patriots and sacking Tom Brady.”

That, unlike signing a record contract, was a career a goal. Mack said in a post-draft press conference he wanted to sack legends. Peyton Manning and Brady topped the list.

Manning retired before Mack could check his box. Mack will have a second chance at Brady Sunday when the Raiders play New England in Mexico City. He had eight tackles and two quarterback hits against Brady’s Patriots in 2014, but didn’t bring the quarterback down.

Mack considered his third regular season game a welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

The University of Buffalo alum has accomplished a ton since then, with 34.5 sacks and last year’s top defensive honor to his credit. He’ll need a Herculean performance against the Patriots to help the Raiders win a pivotal game. A sack would certainly help, but Mack isn’t calling his shot.

“Yeah, I’m not one to talk,” Mack said. “I’ll express that when I get on the field, but I can’t wait, I can’t wait to play against him.”