Despite a rough and ragged outing in his longest stint of the year on Sunday afternoon, rookie quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the top pick in the 2007 draft, will get the first start of his career when the Oakland Raiders conclude the season against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
First-year coach Lane Kiffin, who brought Russell along slowly after the former LSU star missed all of training camp as contract negotiations dragged on, has been reluctant to install the rookie as his starter. And Kiffin's worst fears were realized in Sunday's 49-11 loss to Jacksonville, when Russell had four turnovers and was temporarily knocked from the game with a head injury.
But with only one game remaining on the schedule, the Raiders want to get a long look at Russell so they can assess his progress moving forward into 2008.
Russell, who signed a six-year contract with a maximum value of $68 million one week into the season, figures to be the Raiders' starter next year. He will become the team's third different starter in 2007. Josh McCown has started nine games and Daunte Culpepper has six starts. Both are eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring.
Oakland will become the ninth team in the league this season to employ at least three different starters.
Prior to Sunday's game, Russell had made only two appearances, against Denver on Dec. 2 and Indianapolis on Dec. 16, and he played sparingly in those contests. Russell worked a total of five series and 26 snaps in those games.
On Sunday, though, he replaced McCown after the first two series and unofficially played 47 snaps.
Russell, 22, completed seven of 23 passes for 83 yards, with one touchdown pass and three interceptions. He lost a fumble, was sacked twice and was called for intentional grounding. Russell was also knocked out of the game late in the second quarter but returned to start the second half, and finished the game.
"Unfortunately, it's like one of your worst nightmares come true," said Kiffin, who has carefully parceled out playing time for the rookie quarterback. "This was my fear all along."
Kiffin noted that because he missed all of camp, Russell hadn't really played much in the past year. And many of the mistakes Russell made against the Jaguars, said Kiffin, were on things he would have worked on had the young passer had the benefit of training camp.
For his part, Russell, who connected on his first career touchdown pass, a two-yarder to tight end Zach Miller late in the game, seemed unscarred by the experience and eager to get his chance to start.
"Things didn't go the way we wanted them to," Russell said. "Who cares? It's one day. You've got plenty of football to keep playing."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer with ESPN.com.