What is Russell's timetable for success?

ORLANDO, Fla. - Whenever Rohan Davey entered a game in favor of another quarterback for LSU, it always seemed his fellow Tigers raised their level of play to another level.

The line blocked better, tailbacks found holes to run through with more ease, and wide receivers held onto balls that they previously were dropping for no real good reason.


All throughout 2004 LSU's offense was nomadic, always searching for a final oasis to drink heartily from to make the whole journey across the desert.  For the most part what they found instead were mirages that encouraged enough hope for them to continue on until getting to another mirage.


Against Florida and Arkansas, Marcus Randall looked every bit the SEC starting quarterback.  At other times there were great flashes, such as at the end of the season opener when Randall scored the go ahead touchdown.


While it may be forgotten now, Randall's first pass in that game was picked off by Oregon State.  Little could anyone know the up and down and up and down rollercoaster that September 4th night would prove to be a microcosm of LSU's entire season.


With fans chiding Randall against the Beavers, JaMarcus Russell ran onto the field to change the groans, moans, and even boos of Baton Rouge to cheers reserved for those Tigers holding the promise of potential.


There's no doubt Russell showed why he was deserving of the cheers that night, but cramps didn't allow him to finish off his introduction.  All season long that introduction continued, and even after Russell's heroics against Iowa in the Capital One Bowl there still isn't a clear indication of who he is.


In completing 12-of-15 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, Russell appeared to help Saban snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the head coach's final outing with the Tigers. 


As soon as the redshirt freshman ran out onto the field LSU's offensive line appeared to block better, giving Russell time to get spot-on passes to Tiger receivers. 


With Russell in the game LSU's passing game clicked in a desperate situation, and the running game did what was necessary when it was called upon.  Russell looked every part the next leader of the Tigers offense for what next season will be a program headed by Les Miles.


But was a chink in Russell's shining armor against Iowa.  When Randall had to leave late in the first half because of an injury it was fellow redshirt freshman Matt Flynn who took the field to lead the Tigers, not Russell. 


Somehow, in 14 practices for the bowl game, Flynn succeeded in surpassing Russell for the No. 2 position behind Randall.  A fairly odd development considering throughout the season Russell had held that spot, and had even started several games for LSU in the position over Randall.


After watching Matt Mauck lead the Tigers to a National Championship in 2003 with Randall providing support in mop-up duty, Flynn and Russell entered the quarterback race as potential starters with Randall.  Illness during fall camp set Flynn back a bit, and Russell was tabbed as LSU's backup


Then the season started…


Russell earned playing time with Dr. Henry Jekyll civility on the field, but like Randall found himself inexplicably transformed into Mr. Edward Hyde at times on some Saturdays.


Most confused over the whole ordeal was Saban, who explained time and time again that Russell was making every throw in practice and could hit any target at any time during the week.  Apparently Russell's pinpoint accuracy wasn't as precise throughout December, but an undisclosed injury he has been fighting through played a part in the bowl game depth chart according to one teammate.


Although Russell's brilliance shone against the Hawkeyes to start the New Year, LSU's offense is back where it was this time last year when Mauck decided to forego his senior season – mired in an expected quarterback controversy. 


To make matters worse, the Tigers find themselves in that awkward position with a new coach and presumably a new offensive coordinator taking the helm.  Neither of Russell and Flynn's new mentors have seen them on the practice field, and unless they have the chance to sit down with Jimbo Fisher or Saban, they aren't going to get a complete report on what has transpired over the past two years.


They can at least try to get a better understanding of Russell and Flynn from parting advice Saban left.


"I think that the young guys in this program have a lot of potential, not just JaMarcus, but quite a few," said Saban.  "I think their maturity as people, and their character as people relative to competition, not being a good person they're great people, is something they need to improve on: understand how to prepare for a game, understand the importance of making good decisions and judgments and not just relying all the time on your talent to beat somebody else but to be able to apply you skills in a more productive way.  And I think that's what young players don't understand. 


"But a lot of young players have never had to do that, so it is a learning process for them to have to go through.  They've always been better than everybody else.  And those are the type of things we try to teach our young players here, and that's the advice I would give him and several other of our very talented young players that we have on our team."


Miles and his staff will evaluate their quarterbacks and come to their own conclusions. 


For both Russell and Flynn, such a situation seemingly puts them back to square one when it comes to fighting for a starting job.  At this point ‘coach speak' would stipulate that no one has a starting job when it comes to LSU.  For the quarterback position, it's actually the truth.


For much of Saban's first season at LSU, Davey battled with Josh Booty and Craig Nall for time under center.  Eventually it was Booty who established himself in the three-way race, but Booty taking the team from start to finish in a game was by no means a given. 


It was the last game of the 2000 season in the Peach Bowl against Georgia Tech that people took full notice of Davey.


Down 14-3 at halftime, Saban benched Booty in favor of Davey, and all the junior did was get himself named MVP of the game by engineering a second half comeback still vividly remembered. 


Suddenly the Tigers responded in a way they hadn't through the first 30 minutes in the Georgia Dome, and aside from helping to win that game Davey firmly claimed his stake as LSU's starter for the 2001 campaign.  Booty saw the writing on the wall and passed up his senior season for the NFL, Nall transferred, and Davey was handed the keys of a high octane passing assault by Fisher.


Russell's situation doesn't fit that mold.  While Randall is leaving because of graduation, Flynn isn't going anywhere.  Saban and Fisher won't be around. 


Like Davey, Russell has the ability to be successful.  He has all the physical skills – much like Davey he has even gotten off a couple of passes with defenders draped on him or fending off their attempts at stripping the ball to complete throws. 


Like Davey, Russell has shown he's patient.  After coming out of Alabama as the state's all-time leading passer and taking a redshirt, Russell weathered the two-quarterback system this year and when called upon on the bench delivered a majority of the time.

Like Davey, Russell is in danger of not realizing his full potential until the latter part of his collegiate career.


All through 2004, Saban practically begged someone to take the reins of quarterback and make the Tigers their team.  No one did in the regular season, just as no one did in 2000.

Perhaps like in 2000 the call has been answered in the postseason.  Unfortunately, Russell won't be able to provide conclusive proof until September 3, 2005 at the earliest. 


Hopefully Russell will show some tangible evidence well in advance of that date.

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