Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On JaMarcus Russell

I was about ready to write up this long and intensive post about JaMarcus Russell and how the problems he is having aren't all or probably even mostly about his own demons but more of a reflection of the Raiders as an organization, then I was pointed to this Charles Robinson piece on the same subject by Bomani Jones on twitter. It said most of what I wanted to say so I will just excerpt the end of the piece and add my two cents in after.

• The coaching staff

One of the universal destroyers of quarterbacks is a constant juggling of head coaches, coordinators, play-callers and quarterbacks coaches. Changes year-to-year with key personnel often only serves to hit the reset button on a player’s development. As Savage pointed out, “Look at Peyton Manning(notes). He throws 28 interceptions his rookie year and they go 3-13. Who would have known that 11 years later he would have the same coordinator, some of the same coaches and the same system.”

• The personnel

Passing game coordinator Ted Tollner has pointed out the issues with Russell’s young receivers. The one guy the team signed to be dominant No. 1 wideout, Javon Walker(notes), has contributed little more than bank withdrawals. The last two first-round picks (Darren McFadden(notes) and Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes)) alternate between not being able to hold on to the football, or not being able to catch it. And the offensive line is a one-dimensional running unit on its best days and entirely mediocre on its worst. The only truly proven, injury-free commodity is tight end Zach Miller.

• The culture

You can’t say enough about what it’s like to play in an organization where there isn’t a great deal of discipline, and players consistently say that is lacking once they’ve gone over the wall and defected to other teams. Garcia said there are players just picking up a paycheck, while DeAngelo Hall(notes) told Yahoo! Sports in the preseason that Oakland is the worst working environment he has ever seen.

“I had no idea what it was like there until I got there,” Hall said. “You can’t even really describe it. As soon as I got there, I could see right away that it was different. Things like the structure of football, the way you go about preparing and the attitudes and everything – they were just all [messed] up. There wasn’t any direction. It was just really a lot of chaos.”

• The expectations

Personnel men knew going into the draft that Russell was going to require a lot of polish and discipline. He was by no means a finished product. And things like his weight issue were going to be a constant battle. There is a chance that Davis, a notorious collector of fleet feet and huge arms, simply ignored what was going to be necessary to correctly develop with Russell.

• The scheme

Savage pointed to this as one of the more intriguing realities about Russell’s struggles. He watches the Raiders, and while they take shots downfield, it doesn’t appear that they are running a “true” pro-style offense. Instead, he sees a coaching staff rooted in more of a West Coast timing system than a vertical scheme.

“Lane Kiffin was the coach at the time they drafted him, and they were running somewhat of a West Coast offense,” Savage said. “[Former offensive coordinator] Greg Knapp was a West Coast offense guy. Now [quarterback coach] Paul Hackett is there and he’s somewhat of a West Coast offense guy. You just wonder about the philosophies. The owner has a philosophy of stretching the field vertically, and yet the last couple coaches have been West Coast system coaches, where it’s based on timing and short to intermediate passes. If you were going to be a heavy play-action team and throwing the ball down the field and playing JaMarcus Russell in the shotgun a lot like they did at LSU, that’s a different situation than putting him in a system that requires so much discipline.”

Now here is all that I will add on to Robinson's excellent story. When I came to the Buccaneers in 1996 our team had plenty of veterans but more than a few of them were not what you would call professionals. I was lucky in that there were some really strong personalities on defense that had been other places in the league and were good role models on how to go about your business but, real talk, there were also a lot of guys who went out damn near every night, showed up late to work all the time as we used to say "smelling like sin and fornication" and who were the first ones to leave as soon as practice was over. But what happened was that over time in that first year as these guys made themselves known Coach Tony Dungy went about weeding them out and giving them their walking papers. As a matter of fact the way I first got onto the active roster from the practice squad probably had as much to do with the guy who I replaced on the roster showing up late to practice on the previous Saturday as it did to do with my progress in practice.

But look at the Oakland Raiders and you have on offense literally nobody to teach Russell what it means to be a professional. Believe it or not most guys don't just come into the NFL knowing what being a professional means. It isn't like having a desk job in any other industry and every team setting is unique. So when Russell is leading a team with a Head Coach, Tom Cable, who is facing potential felony assault charges from breaking one of his assistant's jaw, shouldn't that tell you that the kid isn't getting much direction in that department? Try to name a player on their offense, hell a guy on their whole team, who you would say is a leader and a good pro. To be honest the best thing that would have ever happened to Russell would have been if Jeff Garcia would have stayed in Oakland to show him how it is done. But hell I can't knock Jeff for leaving, would you have wanted to work in that environment?

Now in the end a player gets judged on how they perform on the field and JaMarcus Russell is redefining the word "suck" right now. But let there be no question here, the guy still has a lot of potential. The key for his career if you ask me is how soon he can get the hell away from that franchise. This is one time when Al Davis would be doing him a favor to cut the kid and try to label him a bust. I just really believe that you give Russell the kind of leadership, guidance and coaching that he would get in say New England and the guy would put up numbers and thrive in the NFL.

That's just my opinion.


  1. I wonder what the working environment is at One Buc Place? There can't be a good attitude when they're 0 - 5. Maybe it would be a good time to buy my custom jersey with the name Owen and the number 16!

  2. I agree, think majority of the issue is the lack of consistent coaching. But it also looks like Russell doesn't do his end of the bargain by studying film either. Also, the fact that there is no backup QB that could push him to do better means he can basically play how he wants and not worry about job security.

    The Raiders are a sad team. It's sad to see a team that played such a big role in the NFL's popularity become so awful.