JaMarcus Russell's Comeback Shaping Up to Be Biggest Story of NFL Offseason
The word? Misunderstood.
A brilliantly poignant, single-word example of his NFL career, his subsequent fall from grace and recent attempt to make it back to his former status as a starting QB. Needless to say, Russell has captured the attention of every major media market since he first announced he was looking for a second chance.
In doing so, he's quietly produced the biggest story of the NFL offseason.
Hailing from Mobile, Alabama and then LSU, Russell once seemed to be on a career path toward NFL greatness at the time of the 2007 NFL draft. With the first pick, Al Davis selected Russell as the team's QB of the future, with the expectations that would turn the franchise's fortunes.
After three years of futility under center that included 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a 7-18 career record, Russell ultimately found himself without a job after the 2009 season.
Now, he wants back in.
Whatever the reason might be, his flirtation with stardom and his fall from grace has kept us tuned in to news about his potential employment options three months after it was first reported that he was keen on a second NFL chance.
When news first broke in January (h/t Kristian Dyer of Yahoo! Sports) that Russell had inched toward 300 pounds and was working with former NFL QB Jeff Garcia and others keen on getting him back into an elite form, it was clear he was serious about proving doubters of his first NFL stint wrong.
Here's his thoughts on a comeback, per Dyer's report:
The last few years, the things going through my life, football is my job and it is how it feeds my family. People would say [that] I didn’t love the game but that pisses me off. People don’t know the real you but I want people to know the real me and see what I can do. People are always saying that I’m a bust. I want show them I’m not. I’m committed to this now.
So far, there's been nothing but positive reports from his training with the TEST Football Academy, and B/R has been along for the ride as Russell prepares to make himself available when training camps and minicamps start getting underway after the 2013 NFL draft.
Russell is down nearly 40 pounds from his reported weight at the start of this saga, and has added more muscle to his frame to get back to playing shape.
He's always been a special talent.
With God-given ability to rest on a knee and throw the ball farther than many NFL QBs can throw it standing up, Russell has the arm strength, athleticism and pedigree to thrive in a dual-threat, down-the-field passing attack in the NFL.
Now, he's adding maturity, level-headedness and a respect for the game to his resume—things he didn't have when the Raiders made the choice to part ways with their top pick just three years into his NFL career.
It's a story that has transcended the game just three years after that split.
ESPN's Tom Rinaldi also sat down with Russell as the draft and other team activities start to pick up steam over the next few weeks, and the story continues to push those eager to cast Russell aside as lazy and overweight to rethink their opinion on his ability.
These days, if you aren't reporting about Russell, you are behind the curve.
Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reported in early April that scouts and team management services are going to give him another shot to prove he can handle the NFL load.
Jim Corbett of USA Today noted on Tuesday the different aspects of Russell's game (pocket presence, playing shape, maturity) that are the driving force behind his desire to improve, and how those aspects have caught the eyes of supporters like fellow NFL draft QB bust Akili Smith.
It might have seemed like a farce at the beginning of January, but now it seems Russell is closer than ever to accomplishing his dream—this time fully.
Russell will benefit by the lack of a marquee star at his position in April's draft. It's hard to imagine that teams won't keep him in mind when looking at a guy in the sixth or seventh round who has no shot to make the roster this year.
When you put all the pieces together with Russell's desire to improve and how there are teams that still understand his talent would be worthwhile in their franchise if the maturity level is really there, the conclusion is really simple.
When will an NFL team take a chance on Russell?
JaMarcus Russell is the single-most interesting, captivating and polarizing story of the 2013 NFL offseason.
Without a team or a commitment for the upcoming season, Russell has had to treat this offseason like he was a draft pick yet again. Workouts with former pros like Smith and Garcia have given scouts a chance to check up on his progress, and interviews with team hierarchies will be part of any contract offer.
But in a three-month span, Russell has gone from draft bust to the most talked-about unemployed QB in football—and that includes prospects who are supposed to generate buzz in the draft.
It's too early to call it a comeback (Gwen Knapp of Sports on Earth agrees), but Russell is a story that we will pay attention to until he's either back on an NFL roster waiting for his chance, or completely out of the game that has given him an opportunity to resurrect his NFL dreams.
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