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Oakland Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (5) looks to throw against the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010. (Nhat V. Meyer/Mercury News)

Bruce Gradkowski is earnest and attentive, a scrappy underdog and designated backup who can come off the bench like a shot of adrenaline.

He's easy to root for and easier to support -- even if you couldn't care less about the Raiders. The smallish bundle of kinetic energy that is Gradkowski has gone from prep legend in Pittsburgh to the University of Toledo, to an undrafted rookie. He has worked and willed his way into an NFL career.

A 27-year-old playing for his third professional team, Gradkowski is downright irresistible as quarterback insurance.

But promoting him to starter six quarters into a season? After one successful half against the hapless St. Louis Rams?

That would be a sign of panic.

The starting job for the Raiders should still belong to Jason Campbell, and not just because owner Al Davis hired Campbell and believes he's reminiscent of two-time Super Bowl winner Jim Plunkett.

Truth be told, Campbell still is the best overall QB on the roster.

There are sound reasons Campbell, 28, was a good acquisition for Oakland. He entered the season with quality statistics, including an 82.3 rating and 55-38 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has great size, unquestioned toughness and a strong, accurate throwing arm. His grace in the infernal asylum that passes as the NFL franchise in the nation's capital was exemplary.


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Campbell arrived as a proven starter who, frankly, had not proved he could win in the league. He was the starter the instant the trade was completed, according to coach Tom Cable. Coaches and teammates have been impressed with Campbell's professionalism, dedication and ability to direct a team. He's accustomed to this role, having started 52 games in Washington.

A first-round draft pick out of Auburn in 2005, Campbell was promoted to starter in November 2006 and has never, ever come off an NFL bench.

Gradkowski, by contrast, specializes in coming off the bench.

Summoned in the second half Sunday, he led the Raiders to victory over a young and grotesquely defective team bound to struggle on the road. He energized the Oakland Coliseum crowd, engaged his teammates and moved the offense with more rhythm and consistency than Campbell had in the first half. In what likely was a must-win for Cable, Gradkowski brought it home.

But are two unimpressive starts -- one at Tennessee and the other on Sunday -- enough to deem Campbell unfit for the job with his new team? Well, no, unless Cable and his staff never had any real confidence in Campbell.

And if that were the case, why was Cable so consistently emphatic about Campbell being the starter?

Two starts rarely are enough to get anybody demoted simply on the basis of merit. It's what sports scouts refer to as a "small sample size," another way of saying there isn't enough data to reach an intelligent, meaningful conclusion.

The situation in Oakland is not like those in Buffalo and Carolina, where both teams decided this week to replace their starting quarterbacks. The Bills and Panthers are both 0-2 and have chosen to panic.

More to the point, neither opening-game starter, Buffalo's Trent Edwards nor Carolina's Matt Moore, held a secure grip on the position. Furthermore, neither Edwards nor Moore has Campbell's leaguewide credibility The pecking order in Oakland is clearly established. It's Campbell, then Gradkowski, then Kyle Boller. No changes were considered even as the Raiders went through minicamps and a four-week training camp.

Gradkowski is valuable because he knows the system and is fiercely competitive. He's like a good pinch-hitter in baseball, or sixth man in basketball, in that as his best work comes in short bursts.

But how Gradkowski would do over time, assuming he holds up physically, is a mystery -- and should remain so, at least until Campbell has been given a reasonable chance to show he can't hold the job. Like, say, six games. Or a couple more horrid first halves that open the door for the backup.

Gradkowski was the right call last Sunday because the Raiders needed a jolt of something and Cable realizes nobody on the roster can jolt quite like Gradkowski. That's not to say he suddenly became the best QB on the team, or that he earned the starting job on the basis of effective relief.

What Gradkowski earned was increased support within the fan base, closer proximity to the starting job and additional chances to come off the bench and work his magic.

There is comfort in knowing Gradkowski is there and capable of putting out fires, but it's too soon to name him the starter under the presumption he could summon his "magic" on a weekly basis.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com