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Gradkowski takes over Raiders' QB job from struggling Russell

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders benched former No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell on Wednesday, handing the starting job to journeyman Bruce Gradkowski for the foreseeable future.

Coach Tom Cable made the announcement of the change following practice as the Raiders (2-7) prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Cable said this wasn't a temporary move, that his plan is to stick with Gradkowski.

"I don't want to be like that," Cable said. "This is where we're headed and what we're going to do. He'll take this team and go with it."

Russell wasn't in the locker room during the media access period, and he wasn't available for comment after the decision was announced. Cable said Russell was disappointed by the decision but worked hard in practice Wednesday.

Cable said Raiders owner Al Davis gave him the autonomy to make the decision on his own and supported it.

"As we all know, it's important to include him in everything so he knows what's going on with this football team," Cable said.

Cable had pulled Russell for ineffectiveness in two of the past three games as the coach grew more frustrated with the quarterback's inaccuracy and poor decision-making in his third NFL season.

The Raiders believed Russell would be the quarterback to turn around the struggling franchise when they drafted him No. 1 out of LSU in 2007 and eventually gave him a contract with about $31 million in guaranteed money. But his career has sputtered from the start.

Russell had a lengthy holdout as a rookie before finally signing his deal after the first game of the season. He played briefly down the stretch before receiving the starting job a year ago. Russell was inconsistent in his first full season as a starter, but he showed some bright signs with a strong finish to the season that included wins over the Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Instead of having a breakthrough in his third season, Russell has regressed and been regularly booed at home games. He has completed just 46.8 percent of his passes this season, with nine interceptions and five lost fumbles and the second-worst passer rating in the league at 47.7.

Cable said he still believes in Russell's future even if all signs appear to be pointing to him becoming one of the more notable draft busts. Russell will be the Raiders' No. 2 quarterback against the Bengals.

"This is in no way giving up on the guy," Cable said. "This is just trying to jump-start this team and really break it down and make a decision based on what gives us the best chance to win."

In 28 career games, Russell has completed 51.6 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for a rating of 65.5. He also has lost 14 fumbles. He had started 25 of the past 26 games for Oakland, missing only one last year with an injury.

The Raiders used top-10 picks the past two seasons to surround Russell with speedy playmakers, drafting running back Darren McFadden and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. But Oakland hasn't been able to generate a big-play offense, scoring just 88 points in the first nine games.

Russell has particularly struggled on the deep passes he was supposed to be so proficient with because of his big arm. According to STATS LLC, Russell has completed just 2 of 34 passes that have gone more than 20 yards downfield for 85 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions.

"We've got guys open, and I think we're getting better in understanding what we're doing," Cable said. "We've got to put the ball in their hands and find a way to do that. I think this will give us an opportunity to do that."

This will be just the second start for Gradkowski since 2006. He started one game last season for the Cleveland Browns, going 5 of 16 for 18 yards and two interceptions for a passer rating of 1.0 in a 31-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started 11 games as a rookie for the Bucs in 2006, winning three of them.

Gradkowski is 17 of 30 for 163 yards and two interceptions as a backup in Oakland this season. He tried to lead a comeback last weekend before his final-minute pass deflected off Heyward-Bey's hands and knees before being intercepted by Mike Brown around the 10-yard line to seal a 16-10 Kansas City Chiefs victory.

"I thought last week there were some good things and definitely some things to learn from," Gradkowski said before the decision was announced. "All we can do is keep working and get better."

Gradkowski had limited practice time with the first team for most of the season as the Raiders worked on developing Russell. Gradkowski received a few more chances last week and now will have the bulk of the time with the first team. He expects that to be a big help this weekend against the Bengals.

Note: The Raiders reached a tentative agreement with Alameda County officials to extend their lease at the Coliseum through the 2013 season. The Raiders' lease was scheduled to expire after next season before the agreement announced Wednesday. The deal still must be formally approved by the Coliseum Authority, Alameda County, the city of Oakland and the NFL.

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