Notebook: Gradkowski on pace for infamy

PITTSBURGH – Eager beavers in the TV industry couldn't wait to get after Steelers coach Bill Cowher this week. The topic: Bruce Gradkowski. The line of questioning: How could Cowher pass on such a good young LOCAL quarterback?

Cowher was asked every which way about passing on Gradkowski. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted the Seton-La Salle High School graduate in the sixth round last April, or 30 picks after the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted long-since cut quarterback Omar Jacobs.

But what reporters should've asked Cowher is whether he'll be able to keep BOTH of his safeties up at the line of scrimmage because of Gradkowski's weak arm.

That was the flaw the Steelers saw in Gradkowski last April and the rest of the league is seeing it now. Gradkowski is last – 33rd – among NFL quarterbacks with an average of 5.13 yards per attempt. He's on pace to set a new Bucs low currently held by Steve Spurrier, who gained 5.23 yards per attempt during the team's dismal 0-14 inaugural season of 1976.

Gradkowski isn't faring much better when his receivers catch the ball. The Bucs are gaining 9.7 yards per completion, which would also become the all-time organization low. And it's not as if the young quarterback's numbers are skewed by a high rate of completions in Jon Gruden's West Coast offense. Gradkowski has completed just 53.7 percent of his passes to rank 29th in the NFL.

By any set of passing statistics, though, Gradkowski is having a better season than Andrew Walter of the Oakland Raiders. But where were those eager TV reporters grilling Cowher about passing on Walter? Then again, he wasn't a LOCAL quarterback coming back home with a purpose.

EFFECTS OF CROWD NOISE

The effects of crowd noise were evident last week when the Steelers allowed nine sacks to the Baltimore Ravens. Slow-motion film review revealed the Steelers coming off the ball a moment after the Ravens. The Steelers' linemen were forced to watch the ball because they couldn't hear their quarterback.

More telling than the game film are the running statistics: The Steelers are averaging 169 yards and 4.9 per carry at home, and 56 and 2.9 on the road.

If the noise is responsible, shouldn't the Steelers change communication tactics amongst their linemen?

"Even though it was harder for us, for the most part we were on the same page," said guard Alan Faneca. "We had made the right calls and got to the right people, us, the front five, and there's definitely a communication where we have to communicate to the people behind us and everybody kind of needs to know what everybody else is thinking, even more so in that situation.

"When we're at home, they can hear me calling out where we're going and who we've got and it's not always possible when you're on the road. There's really nothing you can do about it. You just have to work through it and kind of get in the book a little more, kind of learn a little bit more about other positions and what they might be looking at instead of just yours."

Do other teams use the same procedures to communicate on the road?

"Yeah, I would think so," Faneca said. "Some teams will just go to a straight term protection and keep it as basic as possible, but they're putting their running backs at risk of blocking defensive ends and stuff like that. That's not always the best way to go."

TALL RECEIVERS

After Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season, he begged the Steelers not to let 6-5½ wide receiver Plaxico Burress leave in free agency. And after Roethlisberger's second season, he went to the front office to make a case for drafting his favorite college receiver, 6-4 Martin Nance.

Well, Roethlisberger finally has his tall receiver. The Steelers activated 6-4 Walter Young from their practice squad last Friday and he expects to see duty today since Hines Ward will miss the game with a knee injury.

Young hasn't played since 2003, when, as a rookie, he played in seven games but didn't make a catch. He's been on the Steelers' practice squad ever since.

"Being on the practice squad for two and a half years is definitely not a career goal," Young said. "It's tough in that sense, but you have to look at it as an opportunity. You're getting a chance to play football and learn and not really having the pressure of playing in the game so you're able to go out and experiment with things to try and improve."

Considering players can only remain on the practice squad in parts of three seasons, this could be Young's final chance to prove he can play.

"It's an opportunity and hopefully things will go my way," he said.

LOADED BACKFIELD

Twenty running backs were drafted in 2005. Of those backs, Frank Gore is the leading producer this season with 1,177 rushing yards. Three of the next four top producers this season all played for Auburn in 2003: Ronnie Brown (783 rushing yards) was drafted second overall; Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (697) was drafted fifth overall; and 265-pounder Brandon Jacobs (340) was drafted in the fourth round.

Steelers guard Kendall Simmons played with Brown and Williams in 2001. Both were freshmen and both, due to injuries, were starters in 2001 and 2002. Williams emerged as the full-time starter as the staff tried to make a fullback of Brown. Jacobs was part of the crowded backfield in 2003, before transferring to Southern Illinois for his senior season.

"It was my second year here when I went back," said Simmons. "I saw [Jacobs] working out with them and practicing and I was like, who in the world is this big old guy? And they had a backfield full of them. I said, okay, he's a third back? And he was just running through people. Then later I heard he transferred and I could understand why. He wasn't going to play and be the man with those other two guys there."

Was it clear that Williams was the most talented?

"At one point I could see Carnell as being the most talented guy. But after Ronnie buckled down to show them what he had, both of them blossomed. They made each other better. Carnell brought out the best in Ronnie. They brought out the best in each other."


Steel City Insider Top Stories