Big Cat: Considering JaMarcus Russell

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Pedigree   It’s perhaps too easy to focus on JaMarcus Russell as a Raider, but it may be important to remember this player’s origin story.  Russell’s 10,774 yard passing record is still held in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.  Further, Russell was a Bayou Bengal at LSU, learning under Head Coach Nick Sabin for his first two years, one of which he red-shirted.  Once assuming the mantle of starting quarterback, Russell was coached by Les Miles in his first two years at LSU.  Between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Russell led a roster that consisted of names like Matt Flynn (his back up), Dwayne Bowe, LaRon Landry, Early Doucet, and Craig “Buster” Davis to the Peach Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.  Also, remember that Russell is first cousins with Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks and Robert Jordan, the University of California wide receiver who played briefly for the San Francisco ‘49ers in 2008 before playing in the CFL for several years after that.

Depth & Timing   One of the more pure reasons for considering Russell would be the significant lack of talent behind Dalton.  John Skelton is not currently lighting anybody’s clip board on fire thus far during the offseason.  Zac Robinson and Josh Johnson are practice squad abilities at best and can’t be counted on to carry a game, let alone a season, should Dalton go down.  Certainly, no one is suggesting that after a three-year hiatus that Russell can do just that, but it’s clearly an open debate whether he is an upgrade at the position overall.  Further, it’s intriguing to think about the upside that he could bring behind Dalton as his ceiling has never truly been found.  Remember too, Andy Dalton is a third year quarterback heading into a season in which he must prove himself with the amount of weapons that the Bengals have amassed around him.  This is a fragile time for the ego and psyche of a quarterback – something JaMarcus Russell knows all too well; he was released after his third year.  Further, Dalton is not prepared to take on a young quarterback as a mentor at this point.  A young stud could be dangerously perceived as usurpers, and on the flipside, quarterback too long in the tooth may not provide value either.  Russell, for his place in time, could be a very good fit as both Dalton and Russell could provide learning and mentorship with each other while challenging themselves to improve in the process.

Maturity   Russell will be 28 years old in the beginning of August.  He has lost 50 lbs and is currently 265 lbs, same weight held when he electrified the 2007 NFL Combine.  For the past year he has been working with his former teammate Jeff Garcia and Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk at the TEST Football Academy, mentally refocusing on his craft and a genuine effort to return to the NFL.  If anything, Russell is showing teams that his work ethic and commitment, two of the largest knocks against him previously, should no longer be concerns.  For situational awareness, keep in mind that Russell’s high school and college histories are winning ones.  The combination of becoming the face of a losing and dysfunctional franchise, experiencing extreme increase monetary income, and dealing with two deaths of close family members and role models inside of a two-year span certainly could have contributed to his mental distractions, slight depression, and rumored codeine abuse.  It would appear that all of those factors are now gone as Russell looks to have turned that page in his life.