Russell still confident despite setbacks
ALAMEDA, Calif. ” JaMarcus Russell was drafted to be the face of the Oakland Raiders franchise when he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.
That face spent most of Oakland’s latest loss glumly sitting on the bench watching an overmatched defense or buried in the turf after another sack on offense.
Even going 6-for-19 for 31 yards, an interception and four sacks in a 24-0 loss that featured Oakland’s worst offensive output in 47 years wasn’t enough to shake Russell’s confidence even if he knows that blame will be coming his way.
“When it all falls down to it, everybody looks at the quarterback and the head coach,” Russell said Monday. “Whether you like it or not, it’s going to fall back on those two guys. To be a bigger man, you have to take it and run with it.”
The Raiders (2-6) already fired a coach, cutting ties with Lane Kiffin after just four games. So the focus now turns to Russell, who is essentially a rookie quarterback after a lengthy contract holdout last year led to him missing all of training camp and starting only one game.
Russell showed some gradual progress throughout the opening month. There was a strong fourth quarter in an opening-week blowout to Denver, a turnover-free win the following week in Kansas City and a few big plays that helped the Oakland Raiders take fourth-quarter leads that they couldn’t quite hold the next two games against Buffalo and San Diego.
For the past month, both the Raiders offense and Russell’s play have taken a giant step backward. The falloff for the Raiders offense since Kiffin was fired and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp took over the play-calling duties has been stark.
Oakland had seven touchdowns, while averaging 19.5 points and 308 yards per game under Kiffin. Since the coaching change, the Raiders have scored only two touchdowns, while averaging 7.3 points and 220.3 yards per game.
Interim coach Tom Cable, who is also the offensive line coach, blamed the struggles more on poor blocking than on poor play by his quarterback.
“You just keep grinding and pushing forward,” Cable said. “We don’t like the steps back by our football team. JaMarcus is just part of our football team. In the big picture, as a team, we took a step back. So, we have to address that. That’s really the issue right now. He’s just part of this team.”
Russell is more than just part of the team after receiving about $31 million in guaranteed money when he was drafted first overall. The quarterback with the rocket arm and big frame was supposed to transform an offense that looked lost the previous year under Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter. But the performance on Sunday was worse than anything the Raiders had seen in that dismal year with coach Art Shell and coordinator Tom Walsh.
In fact, the 77 total yards were the fewest for the franchise since getting 58 in 1961 against the Chargers, when Al Davis was still an assistant in San Diego. It’s the lowest total in the NFL since Cleveland gained 26 on Dec. 12, 2004, against Buffalo. Oakland’s three first downs were a franchise low and tied for the third fewest since the merger in 1970, with Cleveland twice being held to two in 1999 and 2000.
“It was like the switch wasn’t turned on yesterday from a team as a whole,” Russell said. “Whew! It’s a lot. It’s something where you have to get back and to make yourself better, to work from and to learn from. As a young guy, I’ve been put in a lot of situations early. There’s a lot of things to learn from.”
While the running game has slipped in recent weeks, topping 100 yards just once the past four games, it’s been the regression of Russell that has been most noticeable. He has completed only 51 of 117 passes for a 43.6 percent completion rate, with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 55.5 passer rating.
His numbers were much better the first month of the season when he completed 54.5 percent of his throws, had four touchdowns and only one interception for a passer rating of 84.9.
“This is part of the maturation process and part of his process to grow,” Cable said. “You still have to go back and say you have to protect him better, got to run routes better, had a few drops, which we had not really done the past few weeks.”
Russell has a very even-keeled personality, rarely showing much emotion on the field or in his news conferences. What comes off to some people as nonchalance is instead his way of keeping his teammates positive by not letting his struggles get him down mentally.
It’s a trait that his teammates believe is important in a quarterback and one they hope he can maintain even during these rough times.
“It can really mess them up if they allow it to weigh on their minds,” injured fullback Justin Griffith said. “You hear Greg Knapp say all the time: ‘Short-term memory.’ You have to be a master of having short-term memory in this game right here because some bad things will happen. Yesterday was just a bad day for the Oakland Raiders. But you have to put this behind you.”
Notes: The Raiders are hoping to get DE Derrick Burgess (triceps) and RB Darren McFadden (turf toe) back this week from injuries. … S Tyvon Branch had tests Monday on the shoulder he injured against Atlanta and LB Robert Thomas could miss this week’s game with a hamstring injury.