Yeah, JaMarcus Russell throws it hard enough to leave an "Elway Cross" — a small, red "X" caused by the point of a leather football slapping into human skin at high velocity.
But if the Oakland Raiders are going to emerge from their half-decade dormancy, Russell — the team’s franchise quarterback — is going to have to do a lot better than that.
And he just might.
Raiders coach Lane Kiffin — who has raised straight-shooting to an art form during his time in Oakland — is unreserved in his praise for Russell’s development.
On Sunday — the same day Kiffin lamented the Raiders lack of depth (a direct shot at owner Al Davis) — Kiffin had this to say about Russell’s afternoon effort: "As far as practice today, I thought the quarterback was very good. From the beginning of practice through the end. He was really throwing the ball extremely well. He was throwing against the wind most of the day, too, so we feel real good about where he is."
Later, asked about the chemistry between Russell and promising second-year tight end Zach Miller, Kiffin said, "I think it’s an example of two guys who haven’t missed one offseason workout. They’ve been out here, on their own, throwing thousands of passes to each other, and it shows."
Taken No. 1 in the 2007 draft, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Russell didn’t sign until September and the bus essentially left town without him. Less than a sure thing coming out of LSU, Russell was said to be on his way to bustdom.
But the murmurs of Russell not being committed to football and the talk of his being fat and out of shape are quiet now. Mainly because he looks damn good.
Last weekend, Russell went 10-for-17 for 75 yards and a touchdown pass against the Titans. He showed composure, mobility, presence and — yeah, that ridiculous arm — against the Titans first D.
Miller caught three passes and a touchdown from Russell against the Titans. Standing outside the Raiders facility on Sunday, Miller said.
"I’ve never seen a quarterback like him with his kind of arm," said the tight end from Arizona State. "He’s calm, cool and doesn’t get flustered. He’s always on to the next play."
It’s a good thing Miller’s logged the extra time with Russell. He’s not a conventional thrower.
"You have to know (the ball) is going to get on you quick," Miller explained. "At first I thought (the ball) rose it came (so hard), but it’s so much easier to catch now. I don’t know if he’s changed anything or I’m used to the speed of the ball, but all you need to do is make sure you get your eyes around and have fresh gloves."
Even with that prepping, Russell can still be sneaky fast. "There was one play in (offseason workouts) where he stepped up, saw something he liked and threw a 30-yard strike on an all-go," explained Miller. "I remember looking back and as soon as I got my hands up, it was into my chest. I caught it but it was on me so quick I couldn’t believe it. You try to catch with your hands but it still gets right through them to your pads."
The Raiders being the Raiders, it figured that they’d be picking early in the first round in 2008 even after taking Russell (they are 19-61 since 2002). They did. And with that selection they took Arkansas running back Darren McFadden. He’s got the hard and fast down just like Russell. But Miller notes McFadden’s savvy as his biggest attribute.
"The way he’s come in and picked up (blitz) protections so quick, he’s obviously a smart football player," Miller said. "He has all the speed and burst and runs over guys, sure. But as far as understanding and being a smart football player? He’s very good that way."
For his part, McFadden’s been most impressed with the way his quarterback’s welcomed him.
"He’s a real cool guy," said McFadden who doesn’t turn 21 until Aug. 27. "He took me under his wing when I was staying at the hotel (during offseason training in May) where I was sitting there looking at all four walls. We’d just hang out and chill."
"It’s just like any other teammate, when you come in young you need people to be around to feel comfortable outside of football," said Russell. "He didn’t have to be in the hotel for so long, I brought him up there to let him know he was family. We didn’t really talk about football. I just took him up there to let him be himself and chill out."
If both McFadden and Russell can play to their hype, both men may need sanctuary. They are a belt-high, 75 mph fastball to any marketer. Playing for a team with as solid a national fanbase as the Raiders, they can be superstars.
Which would shut more than a few Russell doubters up.
"The more I’m out there, the better I get," he said. "Some people live to criticize others. Let them keep their job and I’ll keep mine."
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