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OTA report: JaMarcus looked better today…unfortunately

According to Tom Cable, JaMarcus Russell is looking better every day.

“He looked better today than he did yesterday,” said Cable. “I think he’s making some progress. I like his work inside the pocket. It seems to be cleaner and quicker than it was before.”

Well, his work IN the pocket may be progressing but once the ball is OUT of the pocket the news is not so good. I didn’t see what Russell looked like yesterday but I find it hard to believe that he could have looked worse than he did today.

Early last season, in my “Ballers and Busters” series, I was given the unpleasant task of chronicling Russell’s accuracy and timing issues. And for those of you who also suffered through that display, picture that but multiply the futility by ten. Despite the fact that, in this case, he was in shorts and wasn’t competing against an opposing team chasing him and trying to take his head off, he still could not hit the ocean from a boat. Overthrows, wide throws, skipped passes — you name it.

In fact the most “accurate” moment in regards to Russell was Cable’s description of the areas in which Russell struggled: “Just being accurate and understanding where to throw the football and when.” So…just about everything then? At least he is not fumbling the snap and hand-offs. Small victories.

I know there are going to be plenty of people saying, “It’s just May!” but that is no excuse for the kind of accuracy problems witnessed today. He has been on this team for long enough and he has played the game of football for long enough that he should be able to perform the simple mechanics of a quarterback.

It would also be one thing if he was busting his tail and being humble but that is most certainly not the case. While he continues to stink it up on the field, he acts like he can’t smell it. At practice he looks complacent while publicly he struts around like he is the prodigal son with a golden ticket and a golden arm.

He does post-game press conferences in a white fur coat and sunglasses.

He shows up three days into voluntary mini-camps only after Cable calls him out by saying, “If he canaccept the responsibility of being an NFL quarterback, I think that’s working more, working harder, working longer than everybody else, accepting the responsibility that his teammates look to him as the face of the organization, that he has to go above and beyond almost on a daily basis. I think that comes with that position, whether that’s right or wrong, that’s what it is.”

What could have changed Garcia’s tune like that? Perhaps he saw JaMarcus struggling mightily and realized that he might just be the better option at this point.

When Garcia was first signed, I scoffed at all the folks who thought it signaled anything in regards to Russell starting. Mainly because the Raiders came into the offseason with “veteran backup QB” on their list of needs and Garcia was the ideal and obvious choice to fill that role. And I stand by that being the case initially. But with Russell looking as if he has regressed to as bad or worse than he did in his first 13 games as a Raider, all the while acting like a superstar, the best thing for this team may just be to let JaMarcus hold the clipboard and watch Garcia run this offense for a while.

Jim Trotter of SI.com recently cited both Russell’s work ethic and new position coach as two main reasons you’ll see Garcia under center at some point early in the 09 season. He also points to new coaches at other positions on offense as a factor as well. Despite Trotter citing Russell’s work ethic as the number one cause of his problems, he essentially blames the Raiders for Russell’s problems.

“I just don’t understand how they’re handling Russell”, Says Trotter. “He struggled for most of his first 1-1/2 seasons but finally showed flashes of promise last December…But instead of building on that, the Raiders brought in a new quarterbacks coach (Paul Hackett), a new passing game coordinator (Ted Tollner), and hired wideout and tight end coaches who’ve never been lead position coaches in the NFL. Also, instead of adding an experienced receiver who could be a security blanket for Russell, they plan to rely on rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey.”

Trotter even says that Russell’s struggles are “no big surprise” and compares the situation to that of Alex Smith of the 49ers and his struggles with five different coordinators in his short time in San Francisco. This is a scary comparison.

Trotter then goes on to say that an unnamed former coach says, “Also those things have set him back a year.”

Tom Cable seemed to echo this in his press conference today when he said, “We’re looking to see (Russell) learn the new stuff, ’cause there’s a tremendous amount of new stuff. It’s more down-the-field action. So we’re looking to get him more settled that way. He, like Jeff (Garcia), has been real streaky. Some of that’s newness. Maybe it’s a route…or the quarterback not getting something new read right.”

It really doesn’t matter where the blame lies. Even though it seems to me that it is a combination of all these different factors.

So now what? Does Cable go with the theme of the offseason of work ethic, leadership, and heart as the keys to building this team into a winner? Or does he make an exception for Russell because he is making so much money and is supposed to be the future of the franchise? I think making that exception would be sending the wrong message. The best teams in this league do not have the time to deal with such things. They put the best players on the field who give them the best chance of winning. If JaMarcus worked as hard in the classroom and on the field as he does in the bathroom mirror each morning, his technique might just some day catch up with his physical abilities.

We can all make excuses for him by saying it is the new coaching staff and it is early. But while the rest of this team is hungry to win, Russell’s demeanor and his gut suggest that hunger is not something he suffers from.

Excuses are not what Russell needs right now. He needs to be made aware that he has everything he needs to succeed and if he can’t get it done then he will be holding a clipboard.

If his play on the field were even decent then none of the character questions would even matter. After all, it isn’t like he is a criminal or a malcontent. But when a player makes the kind of money he is making, we should not have to question his motivation. And we certainly shouldn’t have to question his talent.

So really what matters is that Russell does not look good. He didn’t look good in mini-camps and he doesn’t look like he has improved any since then, despite Cable’s assessment that he looked better today than yesterday. The only good news would have been if Cable had said JaMarcus just had a bad day today. Because saying he looked better is much worse news