Tom Cable finally acted like a coach, and that has Al Davis fuming.
It’s been an open secret that Cable got the head coaching job because Davis expected him to do just as he was told. Until a few weeks ago, that’s exactly what happened. Cable not only carried out Davis’ wishes, he even parroted Davis at news conferences, saying exactly what Davis would have said.
Until he rebelled and benched JaMarcus Russell for the second half against Kansas City. After talking it over with Davis, he extended the benching, starting Bruce Gradkowski against Cincinnati. Davis could hardly object when Gradkowski played so well, especially in beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh with three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
Then, Gradkowski was injured. Russell replaced him for the second half of the Washington loss and again stunk up the joint. Still, with Gradkowski out, Davis expected Russell to return as the starter, but Cable again passed over him to start Charlie Frye, the team’s No. 3 quarterback.
Then, asked at last week’s Monday news conference whether he thought the Raiders would have made the playoffs if Russell hadn’t been the starter through their 2-7 start, Cable said yes.
Davis was reportedly livid after that comment, especially since he had told Cable to cool it in his comments at the news conference, because that was an implied criticism of Davis for selecting Russell as the first overall pick of the 2007 draft and then insisting on starting him this season.
Davis does not take criticism well (understatement). He reportedly screamed at the TV when commentators criticized his selection of Darrius Heyward-Bey as the No. 7 pick in the draft last April.
Before he was injured, DHB caught nine passes. What more could you expect from a rookie receiver? Well, perhaps something like the 48 passes Michael Crabtree caught for the 49ers in the 11 games he played after his contract was finally settled.
But hey, Crabtree will never make the U.S. Olympic 400-meter relay team, and speed is apparently Davis’ only criterion for wide receivers.
Cable’s belated rebellion has won him the respect of his players, who know he was risking his job. I have not been a fan of Cable’s, but he has kept the team together, which is not easy when the losses keep piling up — an NFL record seven straight seasons with double-digit losses.
There is some talent on this team. With Gradkowski and Frye at quarterback, they’ve shown they can put together a good passing offense which, more than ever, is the key to success in the NFL.
That won’t happen if Russell is the starting quarterback next season. He hasn’t advanced a bit since he first took the field for the Raiders, as he showed when he came in for the injured Frye in the season-ending loss to Baltimore. Because he won’t work on his physical conditioning, he is an easy target for opponents’ blitzes. He’ll make an occasional accurate long throw, but the overall consistency isn’t there.
If Cable keeps his job, he’ll start Gradkowski next fall (Frye will leave as a free agent), and the Raiders will have a chance to improve enough to make the playoffs.
But if Davis fires Cable and hires one of the retreads who will be his only choices, the new coach will know he has to play Russell.