In the past few days, the media and fans alike have been in a frenzy about whether JaMarcus Russell is attending this week's voluntary mini camp. He wasn't present on the first day which caused quite a fuss.
Reports immediately flooded the internet (including our own analysis) of Russell being MIA at the camp. The controversy is surrounding the fact that Russell is supposed to be competing for a starting job and the hope would be that he would do everything humanly possible to fight for it. And his absence suggests that he either doesn't care or he is just not smart enough to comprehend how important being at these voluntary mini camps is. They are especially vital if he hopes to prove his doubters wrong and become the QB he was expected to be when he was chosen number one overall three seasons ago.
Then the next day came and Russell showed up for camp. Not only that but he appeared to be in much better shape than he had the previous season. Reports also suggest that he has improved his mechanics.
Just when the reports had made their way across the internet about Russell making a bonehead move by not being there the first day, these positive reports came out. At that moment, many Raider fans went on a mission to defend Russell's honor. The name calling and excuses flew like feathers in a pillow fight. None more so than the old favorite barb: "hater".
One reader's comment that stood out to me was this one:
"I am so tired of folks just lookn for a chance to jump on Russell, give him a break, the kid has been working out and getting ready ever since the season ended bu the gets no credit for that, these workouts are meaningless as long as he is still getting his work inn!! Nobody reported on Tom Brady , Randy Moss etcc... for missing there 1st day of workout"
Let's break this one down shall we? (1) "He has been working out and getting ready ever since the season ended"? What about the three prior offseasons? Shouldn't a guy getting paid $61 million dollars to be a star NFL QB be working out EVERY off season? Why would you settle for anything less? (2) "These workouts are meaningless" Tell that to his teammates. They are there hoping to get ahead of the game and make this team into a winner. If the guy who is supposed to "lead" them is not there, how can they be expected to do that? These workouts are anything but meaningless. (3) "Nobody reported on Tom Brady, Randy Moss etc....for missing there (aka "their") first day of workout." Are Tom Brady and Randy Moss fighting for a job? No, their jobs are safe. They are veterans. Brady has earned the right to not be questioned for missing a day of voluntary mini camps. Moss may have his problems but his career is established. Nothing he does in terms of missing a voluntary mini camp, is going to affect his career path now.
This fan was not alone in his defense of Russell either. Here is what another fan had to say:
"Wow, a guy misses one day of a VOLUNTARY off-season work out and you get the dogs on him. I wonder who else was not present? Call me when J-Rus misses something important. When we start throwing actual real balls AND when it counts is when I want to hear if he is there or not."
That one was fun. Let's dig deeper. (1) Is this really the first thing that Russell has missed? What about the team meeting at the end of last season? That would be the LAST thing he was supposed to be at and he was in LAS VEGAS. That is quite a short term memory you have. Did you also forget last off-season when he was not present for a large portion of mini camps and Tom Cable called him out for it? Should we have "called you" at those times? Did you also forget that he held out until two games into his rookie season to get his bloated contract that he has not lived up to? I suppose it also slipped your mind that because of his holdout, he didn't play until the week 13 of that season and only starting the finale. Then last season, his lack of work ethic had him fumbling, throwing interceptions and ultimately getting benched for the final 7 games of the season. I will go out on a limb and say that the examples I just pointed out are "something important", and "when it counts."
Then, in regards to JaMarcus showing up to practice in better shape, one fan posted an article on a fan blog with the title "Positive report leaves Russell critics silent." Yeah, I guess he has a point. Afterall no one is talking about Russell coming into camp with better mechanics and looking slimmer. All except TFDS, USA Today, NBC Sports, ESPN's Bill Williamson, Adam Schefter on ESPN's NFL Live, Steve Corkran at the Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News, Patrick Patterson at Examiner.com, Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk, Chris Harry at NFL Fanhouse, Paul Gutierrez at the Sacramento Bee, and several others. I think you get the point.
So does this misguided fan want to revise his statement? Probably not considering this is the same dude who, immediately following Gradkowski's second round tender, posted an article attempting to convince people that Gradkowski had been cut just so people could read his factless, racist diatribe.
UPDATE: Since this writing, the aforementioned fan blog he writes for has deleted his article from the site. You can speculate on your own as to why that would be.
Clearly the fact that Russell was not present on the first day of camp has caught the media's attention just as much as his improved appearance upon arrival the second day. Which leads me to the all-inclusive question in regards to Russell; When a former number one pick and expected starting NFL QB shows up a day late looking like he might actually BE a NFL QB, is that cause for celebration?
The fact that it is even news that he has lost some weight and looks as if he has been putting in some off-season work, tells the story all by itself. And it is a tragicly sad story.
Have we lowered the bar that much?
Russell is certainly not the only player for whom fans and media have lowered the bar. And the list is not a pretty one. Terrell Owens was applauded when he was able to spend his first year in Dallas without destroying the team chemistry as he had done in stops with the 49ers and Eagles before that. Mike Vick is given a team courage award because he was able to somehow refrain from torturing and killing dogs or spreading herpes under the pseudonym "Ron Mexico." Brandon Marshall acted like a petulant child in training camp last offseason and then when the Broncos were 6-0 last season, he and head coach Josh McDaniels were hugging and giggling with each other at press conferences. Pac Man Jones is working out for teams right now and could get another shot in the NFL because he hasn't "made it rain" in any strip clubs (that we know of) and gotten anyone shot and paralyzed for a while.
In the cases of Terrell Owens and Brandon Marshall, those days of hugging coaches and crying "that's my quarterback" were short lived. Their experiences should teach you that believing that just because a guy looks like he has turned over a new leaf one day, he can turn right back just as fast.
In conclusion, I would like to congratulate Russell on his weight loss and new found mechanics. I truly mean that. It is good to see. And who knows, it could be the beginning of a rejuvenated career for him.
But we all need to calm down and take a step back. Getting into game shape is not exactly going above and beyond. It is simply doing what an NFL QB is supposed to do. And showing up for a voluntary mini camp is also what a young QB fighting for a starting job is supposed to do.
So unless we are having a limbo contest, let's keep that bar high. It is our job as the media and fans to expect our team and it's players to strive for greatness.