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[May 01, 2010]
Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif., Cam Inman column: Surprise? JaMarcus Russell sharp at Raiders minicamp
May 01, 2010 (Contra Costa Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- An out-of-shape Raider staggered off the field and vomited behind the end zone. Bulletin: It was not JaMarcus Russell.
Rather, it was an undrafted rookie lineman, as it should be at an opening minicamp.
The quarterback that looked the best in Friday morning's practice? Bulletin: It was Russell.
If that makes you feel queasy, well, head for that north goal post.
Russell was supposed to be gone thanks to last Saturday's trade for probable starter Jason Campbell. Russell's exit, three years after the Raiders drafted him first overall, would have been celebrated as "Raider Nation Liberation Day." Instead, Russell came out to play, and he outperformed the Raiders' four other veteran quarterbacks, although incumbent Bruce Gradkowski is sidelined until training camp with a torn chest muscle.
"My thing is to keep coming out to work until they tell me not to," Russell said. "Today I'm going to keep coming out, compete for the job, work my tail off." What does Russell's resurrection (at the still-spry age of 24) mean for the Raiders? Look folks, these are the Raiders, so predict at your own risk.
For one day, it meant a positive first step from a quarterback challenging Ryan Leaf's bust legacy. For one day, it looked as if Russell truly could give Campbell a run for the starting job, not to mention Charlie Frye (he took the first snap), Kyle Boller (long-lost Cal product) and Gradkowski (2009 pseudo-hero).
But opening week is four months away, and Russell won't stick around just because he can show up under 300 pounds (estimate: 270 pounds) and fire spirals toward the sidelines. Then again "...
Russell zipped about 25 passes in Friday's debut session and only about four hit the ground. No interceptions. No fumbles. No sacks (none permitted). No sight of the 2009 Russell, though he still rarely mingles with teammates.
Just seeing him was wild enough. He confirmed he has "not at all" restructured a contract due to pay him $9.45 million this season, $3 million of which is guaranteed whether or not he makes the final cut.
The Raiders likely would be on the hook for the full amount if he gets hurt this minicamp. But they're giving him a chance -- a second chance, really. And never rule out the Raiders doing something odd in terms of payroll.
"He's handling all that's going on very well. That's to his credit," coach Tom Cable said. "It shows some maturity on his part. He's dealing with it and he went out and worked, just like everybody else did." "It's a business," Russell said of his tenuous status. "That aspect, I don't have anything to do with that. It's a higher level than me. My job is to keep coming and competing every day." His job also entails answering the media's questions, which he did in upbeat fashion with his typical three-word sentences. But he didn't get a chance to answer every question. Raiders-appointed caddie Eddie Anderson, a former safety, cut off several reporters' questions.
Starting quarterbacks shouldn't need a chaperon to stop them from answering: 1) if Cable called him after the trade for Campbell; 2) if he expects to be the Raiders' starting quarterback in Week 1; 3) if he could name his ideal playing weight, a question that prompted Anderson to end the interview.
"Let's not make something out of a ghost here," Cable said about Russell's often-questionable conditioning. "The kid's working his tail off." Cable, sticking up for Russell? Six months ago, Cable justifiably stripped Russell of the starting job he held for 1i"1/2 seasons. Now, Cable is declaring that job an open competition (sidebar: he did praise and defend Campbell, too).
Is it a ruse? For one day, it wasn't.
The Raiders practiced with more energy and direction than last year. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson bounded with enthusiasm and instruction. Top draft pick Rolando McClain looked tall and imposing at first-string middle linebacker. (Pessimist alert: Rookie offensive linemen Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell look too lean to make immediate impacts, the defensive front needs more beef and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey still drops easy passes.) No matter who is added, however, Russell's presence will loom largest until he is told to depart.
A ghost, he is not.
Contact Cam Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/CamInman.
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