It is well accepted, by all Raider fans, that change is needed if the Raiders are to be successful again in the future. With regards to the offensive line and the run defense, the consensus is unanimous in the need for improvement. As we move through the other positions, there is a growing lack of unity regarding the need to change. Nowhere is there "seemingly" more a lack of consensus than in the person of Jamarcus Russell.
I use the term "seemingly" to acknowledge the fact that some supporters of Russell have been very vociferous in their defense of him. At the same time, the Head Coach, the fans who attended the Raider's home games and many of the readers on Bleacher Report have made known their position on the matter. A comparison of the two camps suggest that there are many more people who are opposed to Russell starting than there are in support of him. I make this point because I want it understood that my intent, in writing this article, was not to convince a small minority to join a greater majority. I remind myself that when Ryan Leaf "unexpectedly" retired, he had received a one-year contract offer from the Seahawks. I think that is proof that, no matter how bad you are, someone is willing to offer you a chance. Lest I be accused of comparing Russell to Leaf, I would like to point out that was not my intent. Simply to make the point that sometimes, support for an athlete is misguided. Without further ado, here are my two main arguments:
1) The Oakland Raiders historically have not had success with quarterbacks they have drafted. The lone exception to this rule is Ken "The Snake" Stabler. However, I would argue that the organization was completely different and Stabler was able to learn from Daryl Lamonica and George Blanda before assuming the reins. We were a very consistent team then and already had a strong foundation both offensively and defensively. It was a completely different era.
Now since The Snake's accomplishment, we have drafted only three quarterbacks in the first round. Marc Wilson, Todd Marinovich and Jamarcus Russell. For the sake of brevity, I'm going to have to ask you to take my word for it: Marinovich and Wilson sucked. A standard joke circa 1983 was "what did Marc Wilson and the Pope have in common?" They both could make a whole stadium say "Oh God". The point is that the Oakland Raiders success at the quarterback position has mainly come from free-agent veteran quarterbacks. Whether it is the selection process or the fact that the organization does not have a mechanism in place for preparing NFL quarterbacks, the fact remains a first round selection as quarterback has historically failed in the Raiders organization.
2) Jamarcus Russell does not "Get It". OK, I know I'm repeating what Theismann said. I tried really hard to think of other phrases to capture the thought such as "lacks drive", "has poor work ethic" or is just "plain lazy". What I found myself describing was the symptoms rather than the problem. Whatever Theismann's faults may be, he did provide a phrase that accurately describes the problem with Jamarcus Russell.
Before I continue, it should be understood that my premise is that NOT ALL SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE QUARTERBACKS BECOME SUCCESSFUL NFL QUARTERBACKS. If you reject that premise, you might as well skip the rest of this article. I will not provide any names of the failures. I do not want the comment section filled with debates of whether or not such and such was a failure. If you know anything about college football, you should know at least 10 good college QBs that did not pan out in the NFL.
The importance of starting with the premise (that not all successful college quarterbacks will become successful NFL quarterbacks) is that it strengthens our evaluation of Russell as a professional NFL quarterback. For example, Russell's "work ethic" was considered poor even when Russell attended LSU. It was not a barrier to his success at LSU but it was noted by some. The rumors regarding Russell's "work ethic" have continued to plague Russell during his tenure as a Raider. What I find troubling about the rumors is the fact that they are consistent and constant.
Jamarcus Russell signed a 61 million dollar contract after sitting out part of the season. I can certainly understand coasting on your skills at LSU when there's nothing but college glory and a scholarship at stake. But I would submit to you that 61 million dollars is an adequate incentive to work at being a NFL caliber quarterback. After 2 1/2 dismal seasons, we are now being treated to rumors of the new and improved work ethic that Russell has adopted.
I am extremely skeptical of this new-found conversion and here is why. Jamarcus Russell started all four years in high school. As a freshman quarterback, he threw for almost 2,700 yards. By the time he was a sophomore, he was 6'3" and weighed around 185 lbs. He began receiving recruiting letters from colleges then. He excelled for the next two years and selected LSU over FSU for his college choice. After redshirting his freshman year, he started for LSU as a sophomore and junior before entering the NFL draft a year early. Jamarcus is a man who has relied on size and talent to get him to where he is now. He has not had to rely on the fundamentals to achieve his goals. In many ways, he is a victim of his own success. He was successful at the high school and college level without putting in the hard work. Now we're supposed to believe that somehow he has now seen the light and is willing to do the hard work. I question whether Jamarcus has the experience to draw upon that will compel him to do the hard work. If Jamarcus Russell "got it", I truly believe 2008 and 2009 would have been different. Because those years were Russell's first encounter with failure and adversity. The fact that he didn't improve on his "work ethic" and his play suffered, convinces me that Theismann is right and he just doesn't get it.