Aaron Brooks? Are You Kidding?
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 28, 2006

THE RAIDERS quarterback decisions, since they made a good one to release Kerry Collins, are baffling.

After releasing Collins, they started a search for a veteran free agent quarterback who could be an interim quarterback while they developed Andrew Walter, and there were some possibilities out there: Drew Brees (though his arm surgery makes him a gamble), Jon Kitma, Brian Griese, Josh McCown.

But they settled on Aaron Brooks. One story said he was a bargain, but he was a bargain only because other teams backed off. A low price doesn’t necessarily translate to a bargain.

Brooks is a quarterback who has always had the ability to make big plays, but he was erratic in his early career. He seemed to be gaining the necessary consistency when he had his best year in 2003, throwing only eight interceptions while completing 24 touchdown passes, but he took a step backward the next season and fell off the cliff last year, so bad that he was benched for the final three games.

At 30, Brooks seems on his way out of the NFL. He certainly won’t be able to mentor Walter. With Brooks, Marques Tuiasasopo and Walter, the Raiders quarterback position is awfully crowded. Walter has the potential and he had a record-breaking collegiate career at Arizona State, but the Brooks signing is a real setback for him. The Raiders will have to devote most of their time to working Brooks into the starting role, which doesn’t leave much time for Walter.

And now, there’s also speculation that the Raiders will take a quarterback with their first round pick. Matt Leinart seems to be the quarterback who will go first, and Jay Cutler has risen in the draft charts since the end of last season. If the Raiders have a shot at a quarterback, it will probably be Vince Young, who will need an awful lot of work to become an NFL quarterback because both his personal style and the system in which he played at Texas are far different than what is expected of an NFL quarterback.

Since Al Davis came to the Raiders in 1963, they’ve used their first round draft pick only three times on a quarterback. Judging from what happened with the previous three, Davis might think twice about picking a quarterback this spring.

ONE OF THE three previous first-round picks was a by-the-book pick, Marc Wilson of BYU in 1980. The NFL consensus at the time was that Wilson would be a star. He had the size, the arm and the right background, coming from a team with a pro-style passing offense. But Wilson never developed into the quarterback the Raiders expected, and the fans hated him. Judging from afar – because the Raiders were in Los Angeles when Wilson became a starter – it seemed he might have felt the pressure of following Jim Plunkett,

The first quarterback picked in the first round was Eldridge Dickey from Tennessee State in 1968, and though that might have seemed an off-the-wall pick, it wasn’t as much of a reach as it seemed.

In those days, when scouting was much less sophisticated than it is now, Davis had a number of men around the country who would do informal scouting for him, somewhat like the old “bird dogs” in baseball. They were especially helpful in discovering gems in the black colleges, whose teams seldom saw regular scouts from teams. In that same 1968 draft, the Raiders got two players like that, Art Shell, who became a Hall of Fame tackle, and George Atkinson, who had an outstanding career at first corner back and then strong safety.

Dickey was a very talented athlete with an unorthodox throwing style because he’d obviously received little coaching. He seemed to flick the ball rather than throw it, but he could send it 50-60 yards down the field, and accurately. With a little discipline, he might have been an excellent quarterback for the Raiders.

He never acquired that discipline, partly because there was little playing time available for him, with Daryle Lamonica firmly entrenched as the starter and George Blanda available as a veteran backup. Dickey was tried as a wide receiver, and he certainly had the talent to play the position, but when he dropped a pass in the end zone in a 1971 game against Kansas City because he was about to get hit, that was the end for him. He was cut the next day.

The real “what was he thinking of?” pick came in 1991, when the Raiders drafted Todd Marinovich. It’s safe to say that no other team would have taken Marinovich, who had already gotten the reputation of a flake, as its first round pick.

Marinovich was groomed to be a quarterback by his father, Marv Marinovich, who had had a brief pro career as a defensive lineman, a part of that with the Raiders. Marv had his son on a strict diet and exercise regime, and the son rebelled, getting into marijuana. He lasted just two years before washing out.

THE RAIDERS have done better with quarterbacks who they didn’t draft in the first round. Lamonica came in a trade with Buffalo, Plunkett was signed after he was released by the 49ers, Rich Gannon was signed as a free agent.

Davis was talked into the Lamonica trade by Scotty Stirling and John Rauch, then general manager and coach. Initially, Davis thought he was giving up too much because wide receiver Art Powell was included in the trade. The talented but temperamental Powell was a Davis favorite, and Powell had by far his most productive years of his pro career with the Raiders. But, after a rocky start, Lamonica proved to be a perfect fit for the Raiders’ “vertical offense.”

Stabler was a second-round draft pick in 1968, pushed by Ron Wolf, and Jon Gruden talked Davis into signing Gannon. Both were very effective quarterbacks for the Raiders. Stabler took them to their first Super Bowl win after the 1976 season. Gannon got them to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. When he suffered a career-ending injury early the next season, the Raiders started a three-year slide which has resulted in a 13-23 record that ties them with the 49ers for the worst record in that span.

Plunkett was a real coup for Davis. Plunkett had been battered and injured in his start with the weak Patriots, and he was released by Joe Thomas in 1978. Davis signed him and gave him a chance to recuperate, both physically and emotionally. When Dan Pastorini (who had been obtained in a Stabler trade) broke his leg, Plunkett stepped in and guided the Raiders to two Super Bowl championships.

Perhaps Davis is hoping Brooks will have the same kind of revival that Plunkett had, but Davis is no longer the sharp decision maker he was at that time, which is nearly 30 years ago, and Brooks is not Plunkett, whose strong character and determination played a vital role in his comeback.

More than anything, Brooks stands as a symbol for the muddy decision making that has plagued this team in recent years. Don’t look for it to get any better.

LATE COLUMN: I’ll be on Marty Lurie’s show, “Talking Baseball,” KCCY, 1550 AM, at 10:30 tomorrow morning, so I probably won’t post a column until the afternoon.

LETTERS: I’ll update this later today

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