JaMarcus is becoming a leader.
(Photo by Patrick A. Patterson)
Much has been made about JaMarcus Russell and his inability to be the type of leader that the Oakland Raiders are in dire need of. Tom Cable has mentioned it several times since the end of last season and the organization has even brought in veteran Jeff Garcia to make their point.
Only time will tell, but Monday after practice he easily gave the impression that he has gotten the message. Just don't expect him to be a vocal leader like Dan Marino, because despite sharing a similarity in arm strength with the hall of famer, his demeanor and philosophy of leading is much different.
I know what you may probably be thinking. How in the world could this guy be talking about Russell's leadership ability when he just got smoked in a preseason game without scoring a single point?
First, watch the game again. If you do, you'll see that Russell's performance wasn't anywhere near what you might call bad. That's not to say that there wasn't cause for concern. Anyone that watched quarterbacks from Kerry Collins to Andrew Walter remember the guys who played well between the 20-yard lines, only to falter when it counted. Even so, Russell didn't falter.
Secondly, look at his stats on the day. For the game, he went 12 for 18 for 153 yards, one fumble, no scores, and no picks. If you go back and watch the game, you'll see a couple of drops that would've boosted his totals and possibly led to scoring drives. You'll also see that some of those drives ended due to drops, fumbles, and being put in poor situations due to penalties.
Being a young quarterback who's been roundly criticized for everything from his leadership skills to his weight, you would think that mistakes by other players would upset him. If it does, you wouldn't be able to tell--another thing he's been criticized for. You would think it would bother him more since most of the team pointed to a lack of intensity as the reason for the beat-down they took on Saturday.
Russell was asked if he thought about getting in anyone's face on Saturday. "Not at all," he quickly responded. "I wouldn’t do that. Guys, you never know what they’re feeling and how they’re thinking inside. With all the fans watching when you do that to a guy, you might put him in a bigger hole than he’s already in. Just go to him and pep talk him up. Just tell him, ‘We’ll get it on the next play. Hey, don’t worry about that. I could have made a better throw. Maybe I could have put it in a different place and you could have tucked it.’ You know what I mean? Just pull them up and just let them know there’s always another time, we’ll go out and get it. Put that behind you."
One pass that he might be talking about is a third and 12 play where he threw a high, but very catch-able strike to Johnnie Lee Higgins who was crossing over the middle. Had he caught it, the Raiders would've had a first down somewhere near the New Orleans 35-yard line. Instead the ball went right through his hands.
Instead of laying blame on Higgins, Russell blamed himself for the drop. "You know, I say to myself, I know I’m better, I can put it in his chest, he can make a run up field and maybe break a tackle without anybody else over there," he said. "so things like that, you kind of sense a thing on that, you kinda get a feel for it, but, hey, I play quarterback, I’m the guy they look for, they look up to, I could make a better throw to make him make that first down."
At one point, Russell was given an opportunity to deflect any blame or responsibility. He was asked if he wanted the responsibility to be on both himself and the player who didn't make the catch, but Russell didn't give in to the temptation. "You can, but at the same time, I’m going to take the most, because I think it kind of falls back on the head coach and the quarterback," he responded--like a leader should. He then explained why those are his thoughts by saying, "If you get a win, hey, the quarterback did this, the head coach did that, if you get a loss, hey, coach you suck, quarterback you suck, so it kind of falls back on us, you know what I mean? So I take that and run with it."
So, even if you blame the quarterback for a dropped pass, do you also blame him for a sack? Do you blame the quarterback when his offensive line can't line up correctly or continue to false start? While I can safely say that I do, Russell refuses to lay blame on the big guys responsible for protecting him. "I always think of, maybe it was something I could have done better, maybe he wouldn’t have got that hold, if I had stepped up a little quicker, wouldn’t got that hold," he began to explain. "Anyway possible I can get it to, hey it’s my fault, I take the blame for that. Sometimes those guys know, deep down inside, that they had something to do with it, but they say, `he’s really saying it was his fault? So he’s looking out for me.’ It’s going to go both ways, whether it’s their fault or my fault, let’s get it fixed and go out and make it better the next time."
Maybe he's too eager to take the blame for his teammates' mistakes. Maybe you think that his reasoning for taking the blame is faulty at best. Even if you think those things, you can't deny that everything he's saying is the right thing to say. When a guy is willing to throw himself in front of criticism for you, it's difficult not to want to do the same for him, but actions also speak louder than words.
Judging by Russell's actions thus far, it's safe to say that he's walking his talk. Isn't that what you want from a leader?
Well, it definitely doesn't hurt.