The Oakland Raiders hoped JaMarcus Russell would take the NFL by storm.
Instead, he’s the most visible lightning rod for all that ails the worst team in football.
Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, has had a cover-your-eyes bad start to the season, completing only 42.1% of his throws for the 1-4 Raiders and establishing a barely-there passer rating of 47.1. Over the last three games, Oakland has been outscored, 96-16.
So what’s gone so terribly wrong for the cannon-armed Russell, who showed promise at the end of last season and was looking to prove himself in this his pivotal third season?
Even though they’re not around him every day, The Times asked a few experts to weigh in with their observations on why this drop-back passer seems to have dropped off the cliff.
Mike Mayock, draft expert for the NFL Network: “The biggest issue with me is the same one I had prior to the draft, and that is I doubted the kid’s passion for the game of football back then, and I made the comment back then that despite his physical skill set I did not consider him a first-round pick. I knew he’d go in the first round, but if I’m a GM, I couldn’t spend that kind of money and give that kind of responsibility to a quarterback that I didn’t think was a gym rat.
“We can get into all the questions about drops and releases and accuracy and pocket awareness . . . but none of that matters until the kid wakes up some day and says, ‘I want to be the best quarterback in the NFL.’ Until that day happens, he’s just going through the motions.”
Mike Martz, co-host of “The NFL Head Coaches Show” on NFL Network: “He just hasn’t made any progress. I know Ted is as good as there is, and you’ve got Paul there [Raiders assistant coaches Ted Tollner and Paul Hackett], so I know there’s information that’s being coached to him. But fundamentally, the drops are always different, he’s holding onto the ball, he’s missing throws. Just doesn’t look good at all. I don’t think the coaching is an issue. He’s kind of always looked like this.
“Whether you’re getting coached or not, you’ve still got to make throws. You can’t just miss guys wide open down the field.”
But maybe all is not lost.
The grade NBC’s Cris Collinsworth gives Russell is, fittingly, an incomplete.
“Things are so dysfunctional now with the Raiders, how can you judge a young quarterback?” Collinsworth said. “If you’re telling me that somebody’s ready to give up on JaMarcus Russell, I’ll take him in a minute and try to develop him into a quarterback. I know he has the physical skills to play the game. I saw him a lot at LSU. I just think that he has a tremendous upside to him. He’s got a ways to go, he’s young . . .
“I quote the great philosopher Terry Bradshaw on this one: He’s just a young’n. It’s way too early to pass judgment on what his career is going to ultimately be.
“We’ve certainly seen plenty of players who, when it didn’t work out for them earlier in their career, at age 28, 29, 30 they become stars. With young quarterbacks, as long as they have the physical skill set, you can teach them the rest.”
Stay or go?
All indications are running back Stafon Johnson wants to resume his football career when he returns to full health. The USC senior was released from the hospital Wednesday, 16 days after his neck and throat were crushed in a weightlifting accident. He will not play again this season and plans to continue his rehabilitation at home.
Mayock said that if Johnson still has NFL aspirations, he likely would be best served to play one more year at USC.
“He was kind of a middle to late-round pick heading into his senior season,” he said. “He was a kid who still had a lot to prove. Any time when you get a situation like this where there’s so much uncertainty, if he can and if he’s able, it would be wonderful if he could get another year.
“It’s been running back by committee at USC for a while now. And when you’re talking about a 5-11, 210-pound back with kind of average speed, there are an awful lot of those guys around the country. So your senior year becomes important because the scouts expect you’re going to play at a higher level, they want to see what kind of pass protector you are, they’re going to want to see you in one of the all-star games . . . Nothing against the kid, it’s just a process that needs to be played out.”
No bye for the rested
While most of his San Francisco teammates skedaddled for their week off, 49ers rookie Michael Crabtree didn’t have that luxury. He stuck around this week and caught passes from Alex Smith. Running back Frank Gore was around the facility, too, rehabbing his injured ankle.
Both Crabtree and Gore are expected to play at Houston a week from Sunday.
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JaMarcus Russell, above, may be making some fans go crazy with his woeful passing. He has completed 50 of 121 passes. He has thrown one touchdown and has a current passer rating of 47.1. That ranks 35th among NFL quarterbacks with Peyton Manning holding the league’s best ranking at 114.1. Russell’s 70 pass incompletions are broken down into six causes:
*--* Type No. Pct. Pass Dropped 10 14.3 Poor Throw 35 50 Pass Defended 15 21.4 Pass Hit at Line 3 4.3 Other 5 7.1 Intercepted 4 5.7 *--*