JaMarcus Russell is at the crossroads in 2009. His second year as a full-time signal caller was hailed as his “make or break” season as a pro. Thus far, about all he’s broken is new ground on that ugly piece of real estate owned by Ryan Leaf. If Russell’s play continues to worsen, he’ll be riding shotgun with fellow Bay Area bust Alex Smith en route to the land most recently occupied by David Carr.
At the moment, Russell is standing in line at the ticket counter for a one-way ticket to Bustville.
With the way JaMarcus ended 2008, his play thus far is very disconcerting. Over the course of the final three games last year, Russell carved up NFL secondaries by completing over 60% of his passes, throwing 6 TDs and just 2 INTs. He seemed on his way up. His stock was getting ready to be given an all-out “buy” endorsement by Jim Cramer.
Three games into 2009, Cramer’s advice would be to “sell, sell, sell” all your JaMarcus holdings.
When a young quarterback enters the league with high expectations as a top pick, he is not alone in feeling the pressure. From the top to the bottom, all members of the organization are under the gun as their job security can be tied almost directly to the success of the quarterback.
This is where the Oakland Raiders have failed JaMarcus Russell. There is no sense of urgency coming from the top.
Russell did himself no favors by holding out and missing his first NFL training camp. He didn’t play in a pro-style offense at Louisiana State and therefore would need to go back to the basics in order to adjust to the league.
Two head coaches and some three different play callers later, Russell finally got the coaching he needed.
But was it too late or simply too much?
On any given day, JaMarcus has at least three different men in his ear. His head coach, Tom Cable, calls the plays. Ted Tollner was hired to “coordinate the passing game”. Paul Hackett is Russell’s personal coach, brought in to instruct JaMarcus in the nuisances of the game.
The thought of having three bosses brings images of Office Space to mind. Young JaMarcus sits in his cubicle, studying game tape, all the while being approached by Cable, Tollner and Hackett on separate occasions all reminding him that he forgot to put his cover page on that TPS report.
Cable started a “quarterback school” this off-season with the intention of getting Russell back to basics. JaMarcus participated, missing sessions only to undergo ankle surgery. Russell also participated in OTAs and every day of training camp.
The Raiders, in turn, drafted two rookie wide receivers and brought in Jeff Garcia. All moves were made with Russell in mind.
Garcia never pushed JaMarcus the way Cable envisioned. The veteran QB is now playing third (or fourth) fiddle to the injured Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia.
As for those rookie receivers, well they’re still learning the ropes. Russell has been vocal about his young route runners and their NFL adjustment. No, he’s not going T.O. by throwing Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy under the bus. He’s just being truthful. Young receivers needs time to get into the flow in pro football.
Meanwhile, the $55 million veteran receiver brought in last year can’t even get a sniff of the field this year. Cable is slow to incorporate Javon Walker being that the ’08 free agent bust was recovering from a secret off-season knee surgery. Though Walker is healthy now, he still has suited up just once in three games.
The two receivers Russell did develop a chemistry with at the conclusion of last season are MIA. Chaz Schilens should return from his foot injury soon, but Johnnie Lee Higgins is nowhere to be found in the passing game this season.
While many are quick to call out Russell for a lack luster work ethic, consider the circumstances.
Russell might not be the workaholic that Rich Gannon once was, but he has done everything asked of him since last season ended. Whatever the coaching staff has fed Russell, he’s devoured with minimal complaint.
There in lies the problem.
Andrew Walter wasn’t drafted number one overall but his development in Oakland was a clear warning sign. The Raiders simply don’t have a game plan to bring along talent at the quarterback position.
This is why Russell has regressed. He’s back to square one again with new voices in his ear and new faces on the field. There is no continuity.
Imagine an ideal situation for any job. You’d love to be trained by a model employee. Someone who worked for the same boss, at the same company and in the same position as you. Someone who had success. Someone who can relate to you.
That someone was just banned from coming anywhere near the Oakland Raiders. That someone is Rich Gannon. Jeff Garcia has made the most of his NFL career but he was never going to mentor anybody. Gannon has been trying to do so via radio, television and print.
For his troubles, the former MVP was told to stay away.
Everyday in the office must feel like a never ending up hill battle for Russell. He’s never going to be able to exceed expectations so long as those expectations change with each new coaching regime. At this point, he’s been a made man in the NFL. Going at this thing called “playing quarterback” with no father figure, no role model. Just Russell all by his lonesome.
JaMarcus might not ever reach the top of the mountain and he must bear the weight of that as all the blame will fall on his shoulders. The truth is that the burden of blame rests on the tired shoulders of Al Davis and his impatience in building a winner.
Every man marches to the beat of their own drum. The acclaim Matt Ryan got in a year, took Rich Gannon a career and a half to achieve. Once the journeyman Gannon got his feet under him, he did things Ryan might not ever do.
How long will it take Russell to reach his peak?
That we may never know so long a he’s playing for a different team every year even though he never changes jerseys.
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Tags: Al Davis, Oakland Raiders, Raider Nation, Fans, Popular, Featured Alex Smith Andrew Walter Chaz Schilens Darrius Heyward-Bey David Carr Donovan McNabb JaMarcus Russell Javon Walker Jeff Garcia Jim Cramer Johnnie Lee Higgins Louis Murphy Matt Ryan Paul Hackett Rich Gannon Ryan Leaf Ted Tollner Tom Cable