Dickey: Turning Russell into a competent QB is ‘Mission Impossible’ 

Hue Jackson has been hired by Al Davis to make an NFL quarterback out of JaMarcus Russell. Davis must be a fan of “Mission
Impossible.”

Russell reminds me of Chris Washburn, whom the Warriors picked with the No. 3 overall selection in the 1986 draft. Though he’d played only one full season at North Carolina State, Washburn was regarded as a huge talent: big (6-foot-11), great jumper, good shooter, very athletic.

But the first time I talked to Washburn, I thought, “He doesn’t really want to play basketball.”

Because he was so tall and naturally athletic, he was pushed into basketball. Washington did not have a strong personality, so he didn’t resist. But nobody ever becomes a top athlete without really having the drive to do it.

And of course, Washburn was a bust — in 2005, Sports Illustrated called him the second-biggest draft bust in NBA history. He got into cocaine, had some injuries and was out of the NBA in two years.

There’s no indication that Russell is on drugs, but in other respects, I get the same kind of vibes from him that I got from Washburn. He certainly isn’t passionate about the game. Without knowing his background, it’s easy to assume that Russell was pushed in the direction of football because of his natural ability and just went with the flow. His natural ability took him to a successful college career, but it’s not enough in the NFL.

The first indication that he isn’t terribly serious about the game came when he first reported. When Michael Crabtree reported late to the 49ers last season, he was in great shape and ready to go because he has that drive to succeed. Russell was hog-fat when he reported.

He’s lost weight since then, but he’s still a good 20 pounds overweight, which is one reason he’s such an easy target for blitzers. But when he’s asked about his weight, he just changes the subject.

He isn’t realistic about his contract, either. The one he finally agreed to in 2007 calls for another bonus of $5 million next year, and a substantial salary. He’s done nothing to deserve that. Yet, he dismissed any talk that he might agree to a contract re-structuring — as Alex Smith, another No. 1 pick, did last year.

Russell just doesn’t get it. Davis brought in Ted Tollner and Paul Hackett, both very accomplished quarterbacks coaches, to work with Russell last year, but it did no good. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Tollner and Hackett told Russell over and over what he should be doing, but when he took the field, Russell simply reverted to his old ways, even though they had failed him.

Finally, Tom Cable had enough and benched Russell, who couldn’t understand why he had been taken out. Though Cable’s claim that the Raiders could have made the playoffs if he hadn’t had to play Russell was a reach, the team played much better under Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye, both of whom had been released by other teams.

There’s nothing there to suggest that Russell will ever be a competent NFL quarterback, but Cable’s return is predicated on his willingness to give Russell another shot. Davis apparently doesn’t realize that “Mission Impossible” was a fictional drama.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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