As Russell's debut nears, his holdout might prove a blessing
JaMarcus Russell's lengthy contract holdout cost him valuable practice time. But as Russell's NFL debut nears, the late start might have long-term benefits for him and the Raiders.
This is why it's good to hear Russell maintaining a positive perspective on staying patient."The waiting has been fine," he said in a recent interview. "I've been watching Daunte [Culpepper] and Josh [McCown] play, and I've been learning a lot from them. I don't know when I'll get a chance to play, but I've just been trying to get ready for it." That opportunity might be nearing, based on the strides Russell has been making. After spending most of the year running Oakland's scout team, Russell started taking snaps with the first-string offense in practices a couple of weeks ago. Kiffin also said he had been thinking more about promoting Russell to the second string in games. In past weeks, he has deactivated Russell or made the rookie the team's third quarterback. It's also apparent that Russell has been making the most of his downtime. Because he missed so much practice this summer, Russell has used his off days (which fall on Tuesdays) and pregame workouts as opportunities to study the offense and hone his mechanics. Those 45-minute sessions before games also allow Russell to run through the entire game plan with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. This might sound like routine stuff, but it's essential to Russell's growth. The coaches don't have enough time to teach Russell during the season, so he has to get what he can when he can.
Every time I learn something new, there's something else that I have to pick up.
Those weeks out of camp have been costly in terms of his playbook education. Russell admitted that the toughest part of his job this season has been playing catch-up -- "Every time I learn something new, there's something else that I have to pick up," he says -- but he has impressed teammates with his willingness to work overtime.Raiders offensive tackle Barry Sims added that Russell had been running more after practices to keep his weight down. Reports had 6-foot, 6-inch Russell hovering in the 270-pound range, but he said he currently weighs 259 pounds. "JaMarcus really has done a great job of following through on what he has to do," said Greg Knapp, Oakland's offensive coordinator. "People forget that he's only 22 years old. He's supposed to be a senior in college right now, so this really is a good thing for him. He's getting a solid foundation, and he'll be able to build on that." It also doesn't hurt to have Culpepper around. If Russell wants to know what it's like to sit this long as a highly drafted rookie, all he has to do is ask Culpepper, who spent his first year with the Minnesota Vikings on the sideline. Russell also can learn from the roller-coaster experiences Culpepper has endured in a nine-year career that has included three Pro Bowl appearances, a devastating knee injury, and messy divorces with the Vikings and the Miami Dolphins.
Being a savior for that team is the kind of task people really shouldn't be thrown into without much thought.Of course, we'll never really know how the Raiders would have handled Russell if he had been around for training camp. Maybe they would have let McCown, who has battled injuries, play for most of the season. Maybe Culpepper, who signed late in the summer, wouldn't even be on the team. But one thing that is certain is that Russell has benefited from the way a controversial start to his career played out. Even if he doesn't see all the rewards at this moment, he will when he finally has to produce.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.