Denver Broncos defenders are closing in on JaMarcus Russell as the Raiders quarterback searches for an open receiver. First option? Covered. Second option? Nothing doing.
Time is running out before a second-and-goal play from the Broncos 4-yard line turns into a third-and-forever.
Russell moves right, backpedals, spots wide receiver Ashley Lelie free in the middle of the end zone and fires a strike off his back foot. Touchdown. Life is good in Russell's world, and the Raiders go on the beat Denver 31-10 on Nov. 23.
Two weeks and two losses later, Russell is nursing a sprained right ankle while dealing with the bitter taste of elimination from playoff contention. At the same time, he is receiving stark reminders just how much comes with the guaranteed $32 million he received from the Raiders as the No. 1 pick of the 2007 NFL draft.
"There's some good things going on there, but he's learning a lot of things," coach Tom Cable said Friday of Russell. "(He's) learning how to deal with the media, learning how to deal with failure. If you look at his career, particularly in college, (he has been) pretty blessed."
Russell has started 13 games during his two-year NFL career. Ten of those resulted in Raiders losses. In other words, already he has been a part of more losses as a professional than he was while at LSU.
Coping with that no doubt is difficult enough. Then he has the added burden of carving out time for his league-mandated responsibilities to speak with the media several times a week, living up to his billing as a franchise savior and putting in more time studying than most, if not all, of his teammates.
On Wednesday, Russell was a no-show for a scheduled meeting with the television production crew for Thursday night's game against the San Diego Chargers. The fall-out came in the form of on-air criticism and Cable making it clear to Russell that his responsibilities go beyond the playing field.
"If you get perceived as a guy that blows things off or you don't respect the wishes of the media that way, they'll treat you that way," Cable said. "He understood it when we talked about it with him (Friday) morning."
Russell said Tuesday that he isn't fazed by the criticism of his play this season.
"Whether people criticize you or not, it's on me to be that guy," he said of being the focal point. "That's (the media's) job to criticize people, right? If everyone's a critic, then we wouldn't be where we are today to make us offset that. So, tell them to keep on doing that. I'm going to keep on (doing) what I'm doing."
Of more importance to Cable, however, is Russell's accepting his responsibility to be as prepared as possible for each game. That entails Russell's showing up Tuesdays on what otherwise would be his day off.
"He has to find time to come in and work and study and get his hands on the early part of the plan as soon as possible and start to work," Cable said. "The one thing we've tried to teach him is, if you look at all those great quarterbacks, the one thing they all say is a quarterback never has a day off, much like the coach. Once he really makes that part of his every week routine and is really committed to that, he'll be wonderful."
Russell is making strides in that area, Cable said.
"He has really come on in the last month and is doing more of that," Cable said. "He's on schedule that way."
No one is feeling for sorry for Russell these days, nor is he seeking anyone's sympathy.
"I don't know how to explain it," Russell said of the growing pains. "But it's something everybody goes through."
Contact Steve Corkran at firstname.lastname@example.org.