And so it came to pass that the final week of March, in 2009, was spent lampooning Raider quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
With each passing day, another website would publish a diatribe against the former number one overall selection in the 2007 draft.
One site explained why Matt Cassel was better than Russell and yet another one twisted the words of his head coach into an assault on Russell’s absence from the first week of voluntary workouts.
Let it be known that a retraction, of sorts, was issued as word came out that Russell was excused from the first week to be with his mother as she was undergoing surgery.
While he was not a rookie in 2008, Russell was a first year starter having played in just 4 games in 2007 and starting just one.
None the less, the desire to see the Raider quarterback fail is the impetus behind most of the published reports and articles. For the majority of the sports world outside of Oakland, there is a fascination with seeing a number one pick go “bust”. Until he wins and is a proven leader, Russell is not a story unless there is evidence that he’s heading down the Ryan Leaf path.
The following quotes were spoken by Tom Cable at the owners’ meetings this week:
”If (Russell) can accept the responsibility of being an NFL quarterback, I think that’s working more, working harder, working longer than everybody else, accepting the responsibility that his teammates look to him as the face of the organization, that he has to go above and beyond almost on a daily basis, I think comes with that position, whether that’s right or wrong, that’s what it is. If he can accept that, he will be fine.”
Many took Cable’s words and ran with them. Making it seem as if the head coach was disappointed with Russell and, in some Phil Jackson type manner, was using the media to send a message to his young quarterback. Since the end of the season, Russell has been a fixture at the Raider facility in Alameda. His absence has been only to undergo ankle surgery and to be with his mother.
It is obvious that much is expected of Russell in 2009. Cable’s words were not meant to distance him from his quarterback – don’t mistake this for a Jay Cutler/Josh McDaniels scenario. Instead, Cable is merely trying to keep the NFL’s youngest starting quarterback hungry and humble. Asking more of your players is what every great coach does. If you think that Bill Belichick isn’t constantly challenging Tom Brady to be better and work harder, then you know nothing of the business of professional sports and must work for Donald Sterling.
Lost in all the infatuation with rookies Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco leading their teams to the playoffs was a string of three games that put the NFL on alert to what Russell is capable of. JaMarcus threw for 626 yards, completed 63% of his passes and tossed 6 touchdowns to just two interceptions. More importantly, the Raiders won two of those final three games.
JaMarcus has room for improvement, this is clear. He has proven very little at this point. Aside from that amazing arm – one that Phil Simms referred to as legendary – JaMarcus has proven to be smart with the football. Throwing just 8 interceptions all year long says Russell is more likely to throw the ball away or is putting it in areas where no defensive player has a chance to make a play on it. Some can be attributed to his inaccuracies in the passing game. However, it cannot be dismissed as simply being a result of wild throws. His decision making is much better than he is credited for.
His growth throughout 2008 was impressive when one considers that he had to adjust to two different head coaches and two different play callers. The receiving core was shuffled each week and Zach Miller was the lone constant. Injuries to Justin Fargas and first round selection Darren McFadden meant he had little support from the running game on any given week.
Still, there is work to be done, none can argue that.
Russell is fumble prone and must prove he can be relied on for taking care of the football when under pressure. There is, after all, an art to knowing how to take a sack (see Ben Roethlisberger). This is the NFL, no matter how great your offensive line is, as a QB, you’re going to be under constant pressure. JaMarcus is going to have to read and react much quicker as well. Getting the ball out of your hands in a timely matter, making quick reads and being calm under pressure is what separates the Dan Marinos from the Kerry Collins of the NFL.
There are great expectations on JaMarcus. A man known for his kind demeanor is going to have to find a voice that garners respect in addition to likeability.
Don’t mistake “room for improvement” with “failure”. Any pro that does not have room for improvement is on their way out the door whether via retirement or lack of skill.
Those who expect an instant return on investment are living in a video game world. The NFL becomes more complex with each passing year. Success, for quarterbacks, comes over the length of a career and not in one excused absence from a week of voluntary workouts. Troy Aikman was 0-11 as a rookie, John Elway floated balls all over the field in route to completing just 47% of his passes in his first year and Peyton Manning tossed 28 interceptions as a first year starter while winning just 3 of 16 starts.
Those who are looking for an early sign of failure have tunnel vision and cannot examine the big picture. Matt Cassel was not a rookie; he studied under Tom Brady and played with a team one year removed from going 16-0 before being given the keys to Kansas City. Matt Ryan had the NFL’s second best rusher behind him and Joe Flacco was backed by a defense capable of washing away rookie mistakes.
Every quarterback receives criticism and therefore walks alone, but no successful quarterback does it by themselves and therefore cannot win alone.
Topics: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Dan Marino, Darren McFadden, Donald Sterling, JaMarcus Russell, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, John Elway, Josh McDaniels, Justin Fargas, Kerry Collins, Matt Cassel, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Phil Jackson, Phil Simms, Ryan Leaf, Tom Brady, Tom Cable, Troy Aikman, Zach Miller