The Raiders think they’ve found their quarterback. Then again, how many times this past decade have they found their quarterback, only to inflict cruel and unusual punishment – and consecutive losing seasons – on their fans?
Terrelle Pryor. Matt McGloin. Matt Flynn. Carson Palmer. Jason Campbell. Kyle Boller. Bruce Gradkowski. JaMarcus Russell. Andrew Walter. Josh McCown. Daunte Culpepper. Aaron Brooks. Kerry Collins. Marques Tuiasosopo.
But forget all those gentlemen for the moment. Matt Schaub wants to be the second coming of late-in-life success story Rich Gannon. He wants the Schaub-Raiders union to be a marriage made for the Black Hole, which would mean guiding the Raiders to their first winning season since 2002, when Gannon directed the team to an 11-5 record and provided coach Bill Callahan with a fleeting taste of success.
In the ensuing decade, the Raiders elevated losing to an art form. Coaches came and went. First-round picks were drafted and dropped. Quarterbacks were given starting jobs and then booed out of town, with last season’s Flynn-Pryor-McGloin charade offering a near-perfect illustration of the chronic instability.
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But Schaub, 33, needs the Raiders as much as they need him. Maybe more than they need him. Despite a portfolio that includes two Pro Bowls, a 64.0 percent career completion rate that’s ninth in NFL history and his ownership of virtually every major passing statistic in the Houston Texans’ admittedly brief history, he is coming off a season that lured the loudest critics out of the closet.
During the Texans’ 2-14 year, he repeatedly was jeered and harassed by fans. Once, he summoned security officials to his home because spectators were slowly driving past and taking pictures. When he turned an ankle during a blowout loss to the St. Louis Rams, he was ridiculed while being escorted off the field and later applauded when he was benched.
“We (Texans) got a winning record for the first time in 2009, got to the postseason and lost in the division playoffs two years in a row,” Schaub recalled matter of factly after practice Wednesday. “When you don’t get the job done, it’s just the nature of the way this business is.”
Selective amnesia clearly has its benefits. Schaub prefers to forget the recent past and instead remember his earlier success and favorable memories while visiting the Coliseum. Raider Nation. The Black Hole. The aura that once enveloped a once-storied franchise. The history still intrigues.
“As an opposing player, I’ve played here enough to know how they (fans) are, and I’m ecstatic to be on the other side of it now,” he said. “It’s unlike any other. I’m excited to get out there.”
The reality of the Raiders’ situation – back-to-back 4-12 seasons and instability at the most important position since Gannon (1999-2004) – presents another challenge that Schaub embraces. Before his acquisition by the Raiders, Gannon enjoyed sporadic success with the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. And his arrival in Oakland generated far more enthusiasm among front office executives than fans.
But Gannon was a revelation. Strong and mobile, with a knack for extending plays and throwing on the run, he was a four-time All-Pro selection and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl. Injuries limited his effectiveness in his final two seasons and, as history tells it, had a far more lasting and debilitating effect on the franchise.
Schaub, who says he is “invigorated” by the trade to Oakland, would welcome a similar late-career revival, though with different skills on display. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, with close-cropped dark hair and a full beard, the West Chester, Pa., native is a drop-back passer known for his patience in the pocket, along with the size to see over onrushing defenders and the savvy to read opposing schemes.
Just don’t expect to see any of those uber-athletic Kaepernick-type escape acts. Schaub’s below-average footspeed is offset by a quick release and accuracy on short to mid-range throws; he has a particular affinity for drilling passes into tight spaces on crossing patterns.
“He throws a nice, catchable ball,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said, “so I’ve seen a guy that knows how to operate the quarterback position. He makes good decisions with the football, and he has a confidence out there throwing and running the offense and taking on the leadership roles.”
Leadership doesn’t exist without confidence, and Schaub’s ability to mentally recover from last year’s bruising experience will be fascinating to monitor. Veteran quarterback Trent Edwards argues that Schaub is a better deep passer than his reputation suggests and believes that the Raiders’ starter – designated No. 1 weeks ago by Allen, squashing any potential controversy – will surprise many with the type of bounce-back season the franchise so desperately seeks.
“Being a quarterback isn’t like playing baseball,” Edwards said. “In baseball, you have a game the next day, which puts you in a scenario where you can quickly regain your confidence. With football, you have to wait another week. That’s the hard part. You have to be mentally strong. And one thing about Matt, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t look in the rearview mirror.”
The Schaub era thus begins with Friday night’s preseason game in Minneapolis, with the home opener just five weeks away. And guess who visits the Coliseum on that Sept. 14 afternoon. The Texans, of course.
“Let’s just say I noticed that when the schedule came out,” Schaub said with a slight grin. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that guys circle their former team when you have them on the schedule.”