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Throw Russell to the Lions?

I wonder how long will it take, how deep into his first NFL season will it be, before JaMarcus Russell is allowed to take his first meaningful sack? My bad – I mean snap. First meaningful snap. And most importantly – when will the Raiders’ prize draft pick start leading the franchise out of the wilderness? I think, and all indicators lean towards WEEK 1, the season home opener against the Detroit Lions. Crazy you think? Start the kid quarterback on opening day? Feed him to the Lions? Perhaps that would be crazy, but crazy beats boring and incompetent, which is what the Raiders have tried in recent seasons. Why not try something different? What is there to lose?

After yesterday’s wrap-up of a three-day minicamp, Russell was asked by Scott OStler of The San Francisco Chronicle if he feels like this is his team. “Why not?” he said, and added, “You have to take responsibility for being the quarterback.” This was not said in boast, but to express an understanding and acceptance of the situation. After all, when you’re the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick and you get a lot of money, you must step up, get ready to be the man, ASAP, no excuses whatsoever. Ostler also asked Russell to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being hopelessly lost and 10 being completely ready to start an NFL game. “Seven,” he said.

Mentally and emotionally, Russell is preparing himself to play, not to stand and watch. And he’s getting a lot of help. The coaches are filling JaMarcus’ brain with Xs and Os and colorful football terminology as fast as they can shovel it to him. That’s just the way it is with every first-round rookie quarterback, but in this case one senses even more eagerness by both parties. The guess here (my guess anyways) is that rookie coach Lane Kiffin and owner Al Davis would love to see Russell start the opener. I mean, it’s not like he has to beat out Peyton Manning. It’s Russell, Josh McCown and Andrew Walter, and Walter is recuperating from knee surgery. His absence from the minicamp obviously give Russell and McCown more snaps. McCown has looked good and he’s got NFL starting experience, but he’s a journeyman QB, at best. If the season started today, the quarterback probably would be McCown, but it doesn’t.

The NFL’s book of conventional wisdom says it’s lunacy to start a rookie quarterback in a season opener, except in utter desperation. Bad for the team, bad for the quarterback.But this is the Raiders, after all. And desperation may be the modus operandi. As we all know, Davis is not as healthy or as young as he was 20 years ago and he wants to win right now. He also knows that Russell eventually will be a better quarterback than the other two guys, so let’s get on with it already. Also keep in mind that Davis fired his last two head coaches well before their contracts were up, and Al’s fuse is getting shorter and shorter. Besides, if a ridiculously green head coach can’t show faith in a preposterously green QB, who can?

Right now, the Raiders can’t afford standard thinking. And so far they don’t feel the need to play it coy. Most coaches in Kiffin’s shoes would downplay the chances of a rookie earning the starting job, but Kiffin is not taking that route. As Kiffin stated Wednesday, “He’ll (Russell) play when he’s ready to play, and there’s no way of knowing when that’s going to be.” “You don’t win (teammates) over by telling them how good you are,” Kiffin said. “You don’t win them over by talking and giving them a motivational speech before they come out here. As a rookie, you come in here and you win them over by the way you work. And he’s doing that.” Russell will have to do a heck of a lot more over the next three months to win the starting job.


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