It's Thumbs Down for Russ Jensen : Former Cal Lutheran Quarterback Suffers Bad Break at Raider Camp

Times Staff Writer

Russ Jensen's chance to make the Raiders' roster was tied to his strong right arm. Now it is linked to something lower that's wrapped in his hand.

Jensen broke a bone in his right thumb Tuesday when he hit the helmet of a Dallas lineman while throwing a pass during a rookie scrimmage at the Cowboys' training camp at Cal Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks.

"I'm not sure what this means because they haven't told me anything," said Jensen, who will wear a cast for about a week.

"I did this when I was a sophomore in college, but I was only quarterback so I had to play. I couldn't take a snap in practice, only on game day. I didn't have an X-ray then because if they had found a break they would have casted it. It took at least six months, maybe a year to heal."

Jensen doesn't have that long this time because the Raiders have plenty of quarterbacks in camp at the Oxnard Hilton Inn. Former Green Bay Packer Rich Campbell and No. 6 draft choice Rusty Hilger of Oklahoma State are competing with Jensen to become the man to back veteran Raider quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and Marc Wilson this season.

In last Sunday's first scrimmage with the Cowboys, Jensen completed 4 of 7 passes for 69 yards. He stayed in the game after hurting his hand Tuesday, but couldn't grip the ball well. He completed 1 of 6 passes for 20 yards and an interception.

"He's got some good qualities, some raw ability," Coach Tom Flores said of Jensen. "He has a very strong arm and he can run. He's not as polished as, say, Campbell--but that's understandable because he hasn't been in a pro camp as long."

The injury comes with some irony because many of Jensen's best days came at Cal Lutheran, after he transferred there from San Francisco State for his senior year in 1982.

Jensen completed 198 of 362 passes for 2,818 yards and 21 touchdowns while leading the Kingsmen to a 9-1 regular season. The team made the NCAA Division II playoffs, where they lost to Linfield in the first round. Linfield went on to become national champion.

After the season he signed with the Los Angeles Express and was part of that soap opera before being released after the second game last season.

"The first year, I was supposed to be the starter," Jensen said. "I was working with the first unit, but then they signed Tom Ramsey a week before the season started."

Ramsey had just led UCLA to a Rose Bowl victory.

"When they've invested money in someone and hyped him to get people to come to the games, he's going to play," Jensen added. "The same thing happened the next two years with Steve Young and Frank Seurer. I felt I outshined them in camp and in practice all year long.

"I thought I had a good chance with the Raiders, especially since they're looking for a young quarterback. Now I don't know what's going to happen. I can't grip the ball, so I can't compete."

And he knows the Raiders can't wait.

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