If JaMarcus Russell wants to remove his name from the list of all-time busts, he needs to take a look at the careers of the great Raiders quarterbacks.
In order, I’d rate the best this way: Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Rich Gannon, Daryle Lamonica. Only Plunkett and Lamonica had strong arms, but all four had great leadership qualities.
Stabler was a very accurate passer, one season completing more than 62 percent of his passes in an offense designed to throw deep. He knew his deficiencies. As soon as he became the starter, he cut the Raiders’ out patterns by three yards, and he advised Cliff Branch to come back to the ball on deep passes because Branch could outrun Stabler’s arm. The Snake was a gambler and a fighter who never gave up — the most exciting quarterback I’ve watched.
Plunkett overcame great adversity to reach the top. He took a terrible beating behind a weak offensive line with the Patriots.
Traded to the 49ers, he had a decent year under Monte Clark but then was released by Joe Thomas, who couldn’t have done a better job of ruining the team if he had deliberately planned it. Picked up by the Raiders, he recuperated, mentally and physically. When Dan Pastorini, for whom Al Davis had traded Stabler, was injured, Plunkett took over and drove the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins.
Gannon came to the Raiders as a free agent after coach Jon Gruden wore down Davis. Gannon studied game videos for hours on end, and he had great football intelligence. He seldom threw a classic pass, but he knew how to move to find passing lanes to complete a pass. When Gruden left and Dumb and Dumber (Bill Callahan and Marc Trestman) took over, he audibilized out of about half the plays sent in from the sidelines in driving the Raiders to what appears will be the final Super Bowl of the Davis era.
Lamonica was the picture of what Davis wanted in a quarterback, with an arm that threw deep passes with great accuracy. He was stymied by zone defenses when the Raiders became part of the integrated NFL in 1970, but he had a strong run before that. He exuded optimism. A player once told me that, “Sometimes, we scratch our heads at his play calls, but he always makes them work.”
At the other end of the spectrum are Jeff George, who had great talent but was hated by his teammates because he took self absorption to a new level; Todd Marinovich, who never really wanted to play football; and Marc Wilson, who had the ability but totally lacked leadership qualities.
Russell has fallen into the second group because he has not worked at either his physical conditioning or mental preparation.
He lost his job to Bruce Gradkowski, who revived a moribund team before he got injured. Charlie Frye also played better than Russell when he came in for the injured Gradkowski.
Russell showed up for voluntary workouts this month, a first. Now, he has to demonstrate that he can be dedicated to his craft to get his job back. Don’t hold your breath.