Russell is primarily being recruited as a linebacker, but his value on Westover's football team is at tailback. He's not only the featured ‘back, he's Westover's most lethal and most used offensive weapon.
Westover employs a run heavy offense ran mostly out of the either the I-Formation or Flexed-Tight End Single Back Formation (Joe Gibbs' H-Back set). Russell is asked to run just about every run play possible, though he only went out for a pass once.
Defensively, Russell lines up at weak-side inside linebacker in Westover's 4-4 scheme. On a typical passing down, he drops into zone coverage – mostly cover-3. However, later in the game in known passing situations he was asked to blitz the quarterback on a handful of plays.
Russell is also on the field goal block unit.
The first play from scrimmage provided a glimpse as to what to expect the rest of the game. Russell took a toss off the left tackle, was provided with excellent blocking, avoided one defender, and bolted 88 yards to the end zone.
"It was toss right crack," Russell said of the play call. "… When I came out there, I saw that hole and took off. I went behind my fullback and I cut in and there was a lane right up field so I kept running."
The same exact play was called with nine minutes left in the first half and it had the same end result – a touchdown.
"It was the same thing, we had the fullback come in and I came out to this big hole and I took it," Russell said. "The offensive line, they were blocking for me – I love them boys."
The second run went 43 yards before ending in the end zone.
Offensive: 21 carries for 221 yards (10.5-yard average) and two touchdowns (88 and 43 yards). 1 passing target, 0 receptions
Defensive: 11 tackles (4 solo), 2 sacks
Rushing Breakdown: 88, 3, 2, 5, 6, 4, 43t, 2, 7, 5, 5, 5, 1p (8), 3, 28, 3, -2, 3, 7, 3
Receiving Breakdown: drop
(t= touchdown; p=penalty)
Physically, Russell is closer to a college player than a junior in high school.
He is a big, tall ‘back that runs with an uncanny combination of power and speed. He's a north-south runner who is a threat to break for pay dirt at any moment – once he finds daylight, his straight-line speed is elite.
As Russell navigates through holes and lanes, he displays quick footwork, excellent vision, and overall great navigation. When one-on-one with a defender, he elects to run them over.
Russell will punish potential tacklers – delivering blows as tackles are attempted. Upon contact, he keeps his legs moving and will attempt to escape a defender's grasp instead of going down right away. He habitually falls forward.
On the only pass route he ran against Byrd, Russell was targeted but didn't come up with the reception. The route was poorly ran. He did attack the ball at its highest point, but allowed the ball to get to his body instead of catching it with his hands. He had the ball in his grasps, but dropped it while hitting the ground.
Russell doesn't completely sell play-action fakes. His awareness came into question late in the game in a clock-killing situation when he walked out-of-bounds.
The way Russell is utilized on offense – constantly pounding the ball – takes away from his value on defense. He missed a couple defensive drives and several separate plays throughout the game. Also, as the game progressed, the more tired Russell looked – physically and in his play. After the game, he walked with a limp, his hand had swollen to the size of a baseball, and his eyes looked like he hadn't slept in days.
Russell didn't show the same intensity or aggressiveness on defense that he did on offense – maybe because of his offensive workload. He didn't chase down plays away from him and only occasionally aggressively attacked the point-of-attack.
Russell had difficulty sifting through traffic. He often had a hard time fighting off blocks and was pushed out of the play at times.
Russell can be a vicious tackler, but struggles making open-field tackles.
In limited pass coverage, Russell looked uncomfortable and had a couple of passes tossed over him.
Russell is one of three team captains for Westover, which is rare for a junior, no matter how good they are.
Although Russell officially de-committed from UNC shortly after committing Monday evening, the feeling around Westover is that he'll ultimately end up at UNC. In the meantime, Milton Butts, Westover's head football coach, wants Russell to completely research all of his options.
Fellow Westover junior, Michael Jones, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end, was arguably the most dominating player on defense. He seemed to always be around the play and ended the night with 11 tackles (7 solo).
Although listed as an offensive guard on Byrd's roster, 6-foot-3, 350-pound Jenard Whitfield lined up at fullback several times throughout the game. Not only did Whitfield block out of the wishbone formation (one of the diverse list of formations Byrd used against Westover), the senior also carried the ball.
(Check back tomorrow for video of Russell's performance.)