First for How Long?
Napa Valley, Calif.
JaMarcus Russell can't remember his parents ever raising their voices to him when he was growing up in Mobile. "They figured if they were telling me something, it was for a reason, so they didn't need to get loud," he says. The Raiders have used a similar approach with Russell since they took him with the No. 1 pick in 2007, but soft words and subtle messages about becoming more dedicated to his job have yet to resonate with the former LSU star.
In March coach Tom Cable challenged Russell to improve his leadership skills—and by extension his work ethic—but as Oakland's camp opened last week in California wine country, Russell hardly looked as if he'd risen to that challenge, appearing noticeably heavier than his listed playing weight of 260. If Russell doesn't get serious in a hurry, the sweat dripping down his forehead will have less to do with the extra layers of clothing he wears beneath his practice gear than with the heat put on him by four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia, the free agent whom the Raiders signed in April.
While Russell struggled through his first year and much of his second, he threw two touchdown passes in each of the final three games of '08. But if he fails to build on that through camp and a soft first-month schedule, the push for Garcia could be on. Oakland has had six straight seasons of at least 11 losses, and the defeats are wearing on everyone.
On the first day of camp Cable addressed his quarterback situation, identifying Russell as the starter but adding that his status would be reevaluated going forward, just as it is every day at every position. Meanwhile, it speaks volumes that some Raiders refer to Russell as their quarterback of the future. The unspoken message is that they consider the 39-year-old Garcia the QB of the present. Hear that, JaMarcus?