JaMarcus Russell: Make or Break Season

Colin Mehigan@@colinmehiganCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 21: JaMarcus Russell #2 of the Oakland Raiders passes against Anthony Weaver #98 of the Houston Texans during an NFL game on December 21, 2008 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

It may be the beginning of July but there is no denying the fact that the Oakland Raiders sit proudly atop the AFC West.

Then again the Detroit Lions are in joint pole position in the NFC North and those Cincinnati Bengals are challenging for top spot in the AFC North with the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Setting aside my flippancy this is a crucial year for the Raiders franchise. Specifically it is a crucial year for quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

This is Russell's third year. In recent years the likes of Philip Rivers and Eli Manning were proven NFL starters by the end of the same period. Ben Roethlisberger had famously won a Super Bowl by the end of his second year and of course there are last year's rookie sensations Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan for Russell to emulate.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Oakland acquired a veteran alternative in the off season. Jeff Garcia did not join the Raiders to hold a clip board and take in the tourist sites of the Bay Area. He will expect to start.

The Raiders will officially support JaMarcus Russell and will continue with the established rhetoric of Garcia being a mentor/backup figure.

In reality Russell is one early poor performance away from getting benched.

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Al Davis wants to win and win now. Garcia is insurance for the Raiders and the 79 year-old owner (80 on July 4) will have no hesitation in clamouring for Garcia's inclusion whenever he thinks the Raiders have a superior chance of winning with the former 49er stalwart.

Al Davis has invested plenty of dollars into JaMarcus Russell and publicly has lavished praise on his quarterback—cast your minds back to last season and "that" press conference.

The former LSU standout also has many positives in his favour: A strong arm, a great habit of not throwing interceptions and he finished the 2009 season in impressive fashion leading Oakland to wins over Houston and Tampa Bay with Russell throwing four touchdowns in the process.

That said the acquisition of Jeff Garcia is a statement of intent by the Raiders.

Regardless of who is under centre, winning is now expected.

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