Why Frye, and not Gradkowski, should be the Raiders’ starting QB

Photo by Kelly Thomas

Photo by Kelly Thomas

Some may think I’m a little nuts for saying that Charlie Frye is a better quarterback than Bruce Gradkowski, and I admit that I don’t have a statistical leg to stand on, but I’m going to hold true to my assessment that the Raiders have a better chance of winning with Frye in 2010.

When you look at the stats, Gradkowski definitely looks to be the superior quarterback overall. Last season, Gradkowski was 2-2 in games that he started, threw for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns to three interceptions for a QB rating of 80.6.

On the other hand, Frye was 1-2 in games he started (including the final game in which he merely finished the first half), threw for 581 yards and only one touchdown to four interceptions for a low QB rating of 65.3.Open and shut, right? Look a little further into the stats and you find that there are some troubling issues with anointing Gradkowski as the best quarterback on the roster. While Gradkowski managed to avoid interceptions enough to toss six touchdowns in the process, he also fumbled the ball five times, losing three. In comparison, Frye had zero fumbles.

In case you’re wondering, JaMarcus Russell had nine fumbles and lost six in his nine starts.

So, if Russell’s fumbling problem was something that made you want to break your television set or radio, Gradkowski projects to do it just a little more than Russell did. When you count those three lost fumbles, Gradkowski is responsible for six turnovers against his six touchdowns, while Frye is still responsible for his four picks and one touchdown.

Both quarterbacks proved to be a little fragile–neither finished the season healthy. Gradkowski lasted four starts before being injured for the season, which is a lot better than what Frye did. Frye was injured in his first start, and then finished for the season midway through his third.

So, when it comes to durability, we’ll grade this comparison as even. This actually may be the only area that Russell would win the comparison, which tells you more about Russell than the two quarterbacks that backed him up most of the year.

One of the things that any quarterback needs is a good completion percentage. While this comparison isn’t necessarily fair to either quarterback due to the ineffective play of the receiving corps for most of the year, at least the two used the same receivers…mostly.

Frye had the luxury of playing without Darrius Heyward-Bey starting, where Gradkowski had the first-round enigma start two of his games. Gradkowski completed 82 passes in 150 attempts for a completion percentage of 54.7%. Frye completed 53 passes on 87 attempts for a rate of 60.9%.

In the end, stats just don’t tell you everything you need to know. Like passing game coordinator Ted Tollner said after the Cleveland loss, “The bottom line, as we all know, is did you win the game? Did you score enough points? Not how many yards you got. If you got more yards than them, that’s insignificant. But, if you do lose, you’re looking for some positives, too, to grow on.

So let’s go into some of the intangibles. Watching the three quarterbacks in training camp, I was convinced that Charlie Frye was the better passer of the three and that Russell was even better than Gradkowski. In practice, Russell performed much like you’ve all seen during games–badly. Now think about that for a minute while I tell you that Gradkowski made Russell look like a starting caliber NFL quarterback in practice. Without exaggeration, Gradkowski looked more like a high school quarterback on the practice field, under throwing everything…unless he was overthrowing it.

A funny thing happened during the first preseason game. The lights came on. If you’ve followed sports for any length of time, you’ve heard about players that simply play like world beaters when there is an actual game to play. No doubt, that’s the type of player Gradkowski is. He can’t hit the broad side of a barn unless the bright lights and cameras are on him.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Gradkowski. He truly is a leader and he’s charismatic, but better yet, he’s a really good guy to have a conversation with. He’s everything that you expect from a quarterback, or should I say, a starting quarterback. Besides his inability to shine on the practice field, he’s a guy that you want on your team.

Contrast what I’ve told you about Gradkowski to Frye. Frye is more subdued. He’s more serious, and doesn’t crack a smile during practice, where as Gradkowski is almost always smiling. Then Frye gets under center and the offense seems to click. Most of his passes go where they are supposed to go, the spirals perfectly, and the velocity is that of what you’d expect from an NFL quarterback.

In short, on the practice field, if you didn’t know anything about the Raiders or their quarterbacks, you would assume that he was the starter. It’s just that clear in that realm. The only thing that Gradkowski was far better at doing during practice was changing his cadence and drawing defensive players offsides.

Only one quarterback–well really two, but we won’t count Danny Southwick who was on the field as an offensive assistant–stayed on the field after practice every day to get more rep’s. Can you guess who? If you guessed Charlie Frye, then you guessed right.

There were some days that Gradkowski stayed late to throw a few balls, but maybe it was after he had read a few press clippings about Frye. I don’t know that to be true, but I’m just saying it looked that way. After all, the two were competing against each other for the third (and final) QB spot on the roster at the time, while Jeff Garcia was holding the backup role.

I’m not going to be overly dramatic and say that Frye outplayed Gradkowski during preseason games. In fact, my honest assessment at the time was that the two competed to a draw, taking only the games into consideration. Even now, my biggest concern with Frye is that he may be another Kerry Collins–a quarterback great between the 20′s, but not so great in the red zone.

Even with those concerns, I’d like to see Frye get a shot to disprove, or prove, that thought. Why?

No quarterback on the roster shows up earlier or stays later than Charlie Frye. He’s even admitted that he wants to be a coach when his career is over, and that is a quality in a quarterback that you can’t teach. You know it yourself, there’s love for the game, and then there is LOVE for the game, and Frye has the latter. He was at the facility so much that he was actually aiding the coaching staff in game planning before he was anointed as the starter.

Not only does his passion give him an edge, but going back to the way he practices does also. If you are practicing your golf swing, bowling, archery, or any other sport that the outcome relies solely on your abilities alone, then it doesn’t matter how poorly you perform when you are practicing.

But football isn’t a solo deal. It takes all 11 men working in unison to be great on the field of play. It takes timing and repetition between multiple players to finally get it right, especially when the level of intensity is through the roof, and the opposing player is going to take your head off if you don’t get it right. A quarterback that practices consistently good also makes all of his receivers better, because the repetitions finally make the plays become second nature–i.e. no thinking when the real bullets are flying.

Due to Frye knowing the playbook better than anyone else on the field, as a starter he’d have both the knowledge and credibility to help correct the mistakes of his fellow teammates. In other words, while he’s silent and serious, he would command respect on the offensive side of the ball. He’d also leave very little leeway for his teammates to NOT take their responsibilities seriously.

Is Frye the answer for the Raiders’ quarterback woes? In the words of Tom Cable, when asked a question he didn’t know or want to answer, “I don’t know that.” What I do know is that I’d like to see him get a shot to prove whether I’m right or wrong about him being the best quarterback on the roster.

If that doesn’t work out, there’s always Gradkowski you could replace him with.

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