Paul Hackett, Ted Tollner Must Develop JaMarcus Russell for Raiders to Succeed
Sometimes a team shows confidence in a player through its efforts to build around that player. A team will devote the majority of its efforts to provide an environment for success.
But sometimes it can also signify a lack of trust if the team tries too hard.
The Oakland Raiders' decision to hire essentially two quarterbacks coaches is probably a mixture of both.
Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett is the man officially tasked with the growth and development of quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Helping Hackett is passing game coordinator Ted Tollner. Tollner is not the offensive coordinator; he's just there to work on the passing game.
Or reading between the lines, he's there to be another babysitter for Russell.
There's actually very little to criticize with that decision. It's mostly just an unusual situation. But there is no denying that the Raiders fully understand that the franchise goes wherever Russell can take it.
Both Hackett and Tollner have been fairly successful with their quarterbacks in their previous jobs this decade.
Hackett was the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets from 2001-2004. After that stint, he spent the 2005-2007 seasons as quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In both stops he's done a good job with the quarterbacks for the most part.
With the Jets, the worst season was 2001, when Hackett had an aging Vinny Testaverde running the offense. But even then Testaverde was throwing at a 59 percent completion rate. He just had a poor touchdown to interception ratio (15-14), which was always a problem for him.
Once Chad Pennington took over in 2002, Hackett had him playing as one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Granted, Pennington and Russell are very different quarterbacks.
But it is nonetheless positive that Pennington's lowest completion percentage under Hackett was a respectable 63.6 percent in 2003. Hackett can help to work on Russell's accuracy, which has been his biggest problem so far.
If Russell can even improve his completion percentage to 60 percent, that would be a major increase over his 2008 rate of 53.8 percent.
And this jump isn't totally unfeasible.
When Hackett moved to Tampa Bay in 2005, he guided Chris Simms to a 61 percent completion rate in his first year as a starter. So Hackett is capable of helping a young quarterback get to that 60 percent plateau.
The only concern is current Raiders third stringer Bruce Gradkowski, who had Russell-like numbers during his starting stint under Hackett in 2006. Gradkowski only completed 54 percent of his passes that season with a measly 65.9 quarterback rating.
Granted, his only legit receiver was Joey Galloway with no real second option, but Russell also faces similar issues in Oakland.
It will be up to Hackett to mold Russell into a quarterback more likely to mimic Simms' season and not Gradkowski's. Improving Russell's accuracy will help the Raiders sustain drives and prevent teams from stacking the box to stop the run.
Unless Russell is able to hit his receivers, it will be another long year on offense.
Tollner has not been as statistically successful as Hackett, but he's also worked with inferior talent. He was the San Francisco 49ers' quarterbacks coach in 2002-2003, offensive coordinator in 2004, and quarterbacks coach again in 2008. Between those jobs he was the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions for 11 games in 2005.
He's also worked with another Raiders backup, coaching Jeff Garcia for two years in San Francisco. Garcia was an average quarterback for those years, hitting lows in 2003 with a 57.4 completion percentage and 80.1 quarterback rating. In 2004 Tim Rattay was the leading quarterback with a 60.9 completion percentage and 78.1 rating.
Those three years can only be summarized as inconsistent, but again the Rattay situation bears more weight. Tollner is looking to develop Russell in the passing game, and again there's hope that he can reproduce a 60 percent completion rate for a young player.
Even Tollner's short stint in Detroit has some positives. Then quarterback Joey Harrington had a pedestrian year with a 72 quarterback rating while completing just 57 percent of his passes. The absurd note here is that Harrington's 57 percent rate in 2005 was actually the highest during his time with the Lions.
So if Tollner can improve Joey Harrington with the Lions, there shouldn't be anything stopping him from helping Russell.
Last season was just another example of a young quarterback having some success under Tollner. The 49ers' leading quarterback, Shaun Hill, was 12th in the league with an 87.5 quarterback rating and 62.8 percent completion rate—solid numbers for a quarterback getting his first chance to start some games.
It is still not quite clear what Tollner's exact role is in Oakland. But even if he's just there to be another pair of eyes to harp on Russell's fundamentals, it will still be a positive influence.
Overall the Raiders have brought in experienced coaches in Hackett and Tollner with successful track records with quarterbacks. So there is reason to believe that JaMarcus Russell might turn the corner and develop into a consistently solid player. But the pressure will be on the two coaches to improve Russell's game in 2009.
Help him, Hackett and Tollner—you're the only hopes.
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