Russell Or Hill, Your Thoughts?

September 15

           One game, and the Raider conspiracy theorists are barbecuing the NFL at their own special tailgate.  They’re convinced Louis Murphy’s overruled touchdown is the latest evidence the refs and the league have it out for the Raiders.  Abraham Zapruder, line one.

           Upon further review, the rule was interpreted correctly because Murphy briefly lost control of the ball as he hit the ground.  The rules for receivers are different than for running backs.  The ground CAN cause an incompletion, but not a fumble.  It might not be a good rule, but it was correctly called last night.

            Give the Raiders some credit.  Their defense muzzled a very talented Chargers offense for much of the game, except for the whiff on Darren Sproles’ five-yard draw, the winning touchdown with 18 seconds to go.  It would also be nice if the linebackers didn’t lay ten yards off the line of scrimmage on third down.  

             Richard Seymour served notice that his drive for one last big contract has begun.  It looks like the 4-3 defense will be good for him.  If he doesn’t stay with the Raiders, he’ll at least give them one pretty good year.  Oh wait, that’s right, Al Davis said we shouldn’t worry about things that don’t concern us.

             The offense, well …

             The running game is in good shape.  In McFadden and Bush, and later this year Fargas, you have three backs who give you a good change of pace.  The line play on the run was excellent — the Raiders were winning battles on a regular basis, and that’s where the impact of the old o-line coach Tom Cable is most directly felt.

            Unfortunately, Jamarcus Russell’s unintended campaign to drive fans and football purists crazy is in full gear.  His offseason workout regimen has whipped his digestive system into tip-top shape.  If he doesn’t weigh three bills it’s pretty close.  He is so large he has his own superintendent.

             Russell was 12 for 30 with a couple of very impressive throws.  Both scoring tosses to Louis Murphy were beauties, although one  was the controversial reversed call.  Russell’s arm is unbelievable, but he is still unbelievably scatter-shot, and he’s going to kill some receiver by hanging him out to dry someday.

              Granted, he had two rookie receivers out there last night, one of whom lacks a key requisite for a receiver –hands.  I never thought I would write this sentence, but Chaz Schillens is really missed.  Of course if he was there, Russell would still miss him — with a high pass.

               NFL quarterbacks need two things above all else — good decision-making and accuracy to make good on those decisions.  Russell’s decision-making is iffy to begin with, but his arm often makes decisions of its own.  As Steve Young noted on ESPN last night, it’s hard to teach accuracy.  This isn’t like baseball with Nolan Ryan.

              The playbook for Russell is a Reader’s digest version of what it should be, and what it may eventually be.  Russell is still a pup as an NFL  quarterback, so he could learn more plays, progressions, and check-downs.  What’s troubling is, he hasn’t shown much progress as a consistent thrower.

             That’s why, when Gary Radnich asked me on KNBR this morning whether I would take 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill or Russell over the next three years, I said I’d take Hill.  Radnich thought Russell still had the potential to be something, but that’s like nailing jelly to a wall.  Russell shows impressive physical skills and can certainly throw the deep ball, but he’s too mistake-prone.  Anyone remember Jeff George?

               It’s a cliche, but turnovers in the NFL mean losses.  Hill is unspectacular, but he’s also 8-3 as a starter.  Why?  He generally makes good decisions, he can make the throws he needs to make, and he’s smart.  As Matt Maiocco mentioned in his astute blog, Hill brought his team up to the line quickly for Frank Gore’s six-yard touchdown run against Arizona, right after firing a 50-yard bomb in stride to Isaac Bruce.

               I’ll take that kind of quarterback any day.  Along with smarts, decent accuracy and decision-making, Hill is a leader.  Why did it take so long for him to be a starting quarterback in the NFL?  Often, circumstances work against a player.  On top of that, Hill has the reputation of being a poor practice player, and combined with his less-than-eye-popping skill set, that sent him straight to clipboard duty.

               Russell worries me because of his inaccuracy, and because he’s on his way to becoming the Craig Stadler of NFL quarterbacks.  He’s 23 now, how large will he be at age 30?  Hill is 29 and will probably be the same kind of quarterback at 32.

               Russell and Hill.  Un-sexy choices, but a fun debate.  Gotta go to the gym now.  Trying to get under two bills.

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