It's time for JaMarcus Russell to step up and show the dedication to lead the Oakland Raiders to a successful season. As the quarterback and face of the franchise, Russell needs to work harder and smarter than ever before to make the most of, not only his talent, but also his teammates'.
Raiders Coach Tom Cable has mentioned several times that Russell has improved his work ethic and film study, but that even with the improvement Russell needs to do more. Then, this week, while attending the NFL owner's meeting, Cable was quoted by Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee as saying this about Russell:
"If he can accept 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. If he can accept that and become that, he'll be fine. He'll be great, I think.
"Has he done that? I think during the last six weeks he started to, during the season. I think thus far in the offseason he's been around more than ever. He was never around like this on his own, just watching tape, studying, so that's a step in the right direction. I think he has to embrace that, though, for him to be what he should be."
That quotation repeats the same message that Cable has been delivering for most of the past year—Russell needs to do more. The troubling part of the message is that it makes one wonder if Russell gets it.
The NFL is not college. Russell cannot rely on talent alone like he did in college. He needs to watch more film than he has ever done. He needs to study blitz pickups and opposing players' tendencies like never before. In short, he needs to be more like Rich Gannon.
The last time the Raiders had success on the field was when Gannon was piloting the team. The stories of Gannon's dedication and work ethic became legendary. Raiders fans need to start hearing about how Russell showed up to the Raiders headquarters and had to throw pebbles at the coach's window in order to be let in so he could study film.
We need to hear stories about how Russell confiscated the pool balls from the rec area’s pool table and told his teammates that if they have time to play pool, they had time to practice or watch film. In short, we need to hear stories about Russell’s dedication to the team and to improving as a quarterback.
Even more important, Russell needs to provide an example of what it takes to be a winner so that his teammates are driven to push themselves and each other harder. This dedication surely figured into the Raiders’ decision to let Charles Woodson go to free agency while they paid extra to lock up Nnamdi Asomugha.
Woodson was notorious for not working and just letting his natural talent come through on Sundays. Asomugha, on the other hand, has worked hard to hone his talent and improve his play. Asomugha has gone from promising to the best cover corner in the NFL. Moreover, Asomugha has also tutored the younger members of the Raiders' secondary in technique and practice tips. Asomugha has led this group by example.
Woodson had much more natural talent than Asomugha, but through dedication and hard work Asomugha has become the better player. Gannon did not have as much natural talent as Russell, but Gannon worked harder than anyone else and became an excellent quarterback while having one of the greatest seasons ever for a quarterback. With his talent, Russell could become unstoppable if he dedicated himself to the game and to his chosen profession.
Russell needs to listen to Cable and start showing leadership by practicing and studying harder than ever before. If he manages to do so, the Raiders are poised to have a breakout year and could make the playoffs in the depleted AFC West in 2009.