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.

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

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USATSI

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

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USATSI

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Several defensive players were upset about Norton's firing, but Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.” Defensive stars declined comment Wednesday or didn't appear in the locker room when the media was present. 

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”