No QB dilemma for Raiders NFL: Oakland has gone 3-0 under backup Donald Hollas, but if strong-armed Jeff George is healthy, there's no question who will start on Sunday against the Ravens.

November 05, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Oakland Raiders were 3-2 in their first five games with Jeff George as their starting quarterback.

They're 3-0 in their last three games since Donald Hollas became the starter after George suffered a groin injury, and have become one of the surprise teams in the league.

But if George is ready to play Sunday against the Ravens, new coach Jon Gruden said he doesn't think he has a tough decision -- George will start.

"If Jeff George can go, he's our starting quarterback. If he can't play, we're comfortable with Donald Hollas as our quarterback," Gruden said.

"We're going to let Jeff practice and we'll distribute the reps as if both guys are going to be the starter. We'll try to simulate some actual game-like settings for Jeff where he's got to move around and make some abrupt movement. He's gotten a lot better. We expect him to have a good chance to play in this game. If not, it'll be next week."

Hollas knows his role and won't complain when he goes back to the bench.

"I'm excited that I was able to contribute," Hollas said. "I'll continue to prepare. I'll stay ready."

Hollas is a career journeyman who played at Rice, was drafted by the Bengals and had stops with the Lions, Oilers and Texas Terrors (Arena League) before signing with the Raiders last year.

He has done the job he was signed to do by keeping the team rolling, but George is still the starter.

Although Hollas doesn't have George's arm, Gruden said, "We wouldn't have kept Donald Hollas if we didn't feel like he could make the throws that exist in our playbook."

But Hollas can't throw the way George can. Few quarterbacks can.

"Jeff George arguably has the best arm in pro football," Gruden said. "He's a rare commodity throwing the ball. I've never seen a guy throw the ball like this. We have to do a better job of protecting the passer and improve our running game to help our quarterback."

George is eager to play because the Raiders have the kind of defense -- ranked second in the league -- that he has rarely had to back him up.

"My whole career, I've been waiting for a team like this," he said.

If George plays, the Raiders are likely to throw deep to James Jett and Tim Brown, who will be covered by rookie Duane Starks and veteran Rod Woodson.

The Jett-Starks matchup will pair a pair of speedsters. Brown and Woodson are two veterans whose rivalry goes back to their college days, when Brown was at Notre Dame and Woodson at Purdue.

"Everybody knows I like to throw the ball downfield," George said. "We'll go back to what we were doing before."

George has the arm and the receivers to burn the Ravens the way Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell did in the two games he played against them this year.

If George can't make it back for the Ravens game, running back Napoleon Kaufman, who has gained 634 yards, will be the focal point of Oakland's attack.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said: "With George in there, they're going to throw the football more. With Hollas, they're going to be a little more conservative and attempt to run the ball."

George's statistics aren't really much better than Hollas'. George has completed 57.1 percent of his passes, compared with 45.1 for Hollas, George's quarterback rating is 74.4, and Hollas' is 70.

George has thrown three touchdown passes and four interceptions, compared with Hollas' four touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Gruden isn't concerned about the statistics.

"You can make what you want of stats," Gruden said. "I don't put much credo in them. We're just judging our team on wins and losses, and statistics and all those things are for everybody else."

The Raiders also say George has become a leader, even though he has a reputation for being an immature player; some have described him as having a million-dollar arm and a 10-cent head. He bombed in Indianapolis and Atlanta, and his stay in Atlanta ended with a sideline shouting match with former Falcons coach June Jones.

Brown said George has learned from his mistakes.

"He's been absolutely wonderful," Brown said. "We talked about this when he first signed last year. The first conversation we had, we were saying when something happens to you one place, you look at that place and say, 'Well, they were just crazy.'

"But when it happens to you again at another place, you have to take a look at yourself."

Brown added: "He made the decision he had to, to make some changes as far as his attitude toward the way he looked at things. The Jeff George we've had so far has been a great team guy, a great leader for this team.

"He's been very hurt mentally because he really wants to be a part of this winning. He's waited all his career to have a great defense, and he finally got one and he hasn't been playing. He's really looking forward to the opportunity to get back."

Gruden said he has never worried about George's past.

"You hear about other guys and their reputations from other places," the coach said. "I wasn't around him in the past. He's not a real animated guy. I wouldn't say he's a guy that's going to give a pre-game speech to ignite the team. I think he's got the ability to pull people with him."

Raiders at a glance

Last game: Beat Seattle, 31-18.

Last meeting with Ravens: Lost, 19-14, in Baltimore on Sept. 1, 1996, in the first game in Ravens history.

Who's hot: The Raiders are coming off their fifth straight win behind their defense, which has scored four touchdowns and forced 22 takeaways. The defense is ranked No. 2 in the NFL.

Who's not: The Raiders have scored only one point more than they've allowed, 146-145, and the offense has not scored more than 20 points in Jeff George's four full games. Desmond Howard has had 25 punt returns for 227 yards and no touchdowns.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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