The Oakland Raiders coaching staff went to some extreme measures to test if quarterback bust JaMarcus Russell was watching game film, according to Russell’s former teammate — and offensive lineman — David Diehl. They gave Russell blank tapes to watch. Russell returned the next day and told the coaches that he had watched the blitz packages that he was assigned — which was, of course, impossible.
Diehl recounted the story in an interview with New York’s WFAN on Sunday, according to NBC Sports.
Russell was a star at LSU, named All-Southeast Conference and the MVP of the Sugar Bowl, and left school ranked in the top five of every career passing category. He was the only quarterback in the storied program’s history to lead the team to back-to-back 10-win seasons. In his final season, Russell set the school single-season passing records for completion percentage — at 67.8 percent — and touchdowns, scoring 28.
At 6 feet 6 six inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, Russell had the size of modern defensive ends. He had decent speed for a quarterback, especially for a man of his size, and his arm strength was unparalleled. It was rumored that Russell could throw the ball over 80 yards, which would put him among the greatest arms ever to play the position.
“The best pro day I ever saw was JaMarcus Russell,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told Dan Patrick on Pro Football Talk. “I’ve never seen a quarterback throw a football like that in my life.”
Russell didn’t work out at the combine, which was not unusual for a top quarterback at the time. The Raiders were smitten with Russell’s potential, and they made him the top overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
There were warning signs that he may under-perform, however, even back then. John Clayton noted that “he looked a little flabby around the midsection at his weigh-in” in his 2007 ESPN article. Mayock notes that Russell didn’t have a passion for the game, and didn’t have the work ethic necessary to compete at the highest level.
Russell engaged in a prolonged holdout after the draft before finally agreeing to a contract. When he finally reported to the Raiders, he was nearly 20 pounds overweight. Two months into his rookie season, Russell still wasn’t starting for the Raiders. Gary Peterson, who covered the Raiders for the Bay Area News Group, characterized Russell as “lethargic,” noting “a lack of will, a lack of energy, just someone who won’t apply himself.”
“I think people are angry that he doesn’t seem to get it,” Peterson said in an interview, as relayed by ESPN. “Maybe he doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to work harder, or he is content not to work harder…”
Russell only lasted three seasons in the NFL, making 25 starts while passing for 4,083 yards — tallying 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in the process. In May of 2010, the Raiders released him. Russell had the shortest career of any player selected as the top overall pick, other than former Washington standout Steve Emtman, whose career was cut short by injuries.