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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Gradkowski optimistic about future in NFL

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Technically, Bruce Gradkowski is unemployed.

But unlike times before when the former University of Toledo quarterback was out of work, he doesn't feel as though he's in a state of flux.

Before separate knee injuries ended his first season in Oakland, Gradkowski had distinguished himself as the best quarterback in the organization, invigorating an offense that floundered with highly paid JaMarcus Russell at the controls. Now Gradkowski, a restricted free agent, wants to be rewarded. And he thinks he will be.

"I plan to be back with the Raiders," Gradkowski said to The Blade yesterday during an autograph session at Arnie's on Secor Road. "I think everything will work out, and I'm looking forward to it. We did a lot of good things this year and I'm looking forward to next season."

It's been a while since Gradkowski felt so secure about his future. In four pro seasons he has played for three teams - Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Oakland - and been in camp with another - St. Louis. Such is the life of a sixth-round draft choice deemed too short, at 6-foot-1, and not possessing a strong arm.

"My license plate says California, my driver's license says Florida, and my home address is Pittsburgh," Gradkowski said. "I'm all over the place, and hopefully I can settle down soon."

In his defense of seeking a multi-year deal, Gradkowski went 2-1 in three full games as Oakland's starting quarterback, defeating one playoff team - Cincinnati - and assisting in keeping Pittsburgh out of the postseason. Gradkowski's numbers weren't superb - 82 of 150 passing for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns against three interceptions - but he became loved by a fan base that has grown disenchanted with Russell. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft completed just 48 percent of his passes in 2009, while tossing 11 picks compared to just three touchdowns.

After Gradkowski suffered an injury to both knees Dec. 13, Russell did not make a compelling case to pin down the starting spot moving forward.

But there's a business angle working against Gradkowski. Russell is halfway through a six-year contract paying him $68 million, so clearly the Raiders want to see him produce. Gradkowski says he simply wants the organization to give him a fair shake.

"I think at this point, hopefully, they'll just pick the best guy to be out there on the field," he said. "Money's not an issue, but I know in this business it kind of is when you invest a lot of money in someone. All I ask for is an opportunity to compete."

These days Gradkowski is floating back and forth from Pittsburgh, where he grew up before coming to UT in 2001, and the Oakland area where he hopes to stabilize for at least the next few years. Although he's probably not fully recovered from his knee injuries, surgery was not needed and Gradkowski is now able to run and lift weights. He spent the weekend in Toledo visiting friends and entertaining autograph seekers, some of which came armed with Rockets paraphernalia and others with gear of Gradkowski's NFL team. However "Go Raiders" was Gradkowski's written message to each of his fans.

"I've never been the starter going into the season since I was at Toledo," Gradkowski said. "I think that would be a great opportunity if I can do that and make this team a lot better and go to the playoffs. That's one of our goals we're looking forward to reaching."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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