Russell poses big problem

Tennessee defensive back Jason Allen says LSU's JaMarcus Russell is "like a defensive end playing quarterback." Actually, the 6-6 and 252-pounder is bigger than Vol defensive end Parys Haralson (6-2, 248).

Regardless, Russell is a big guy with a big arm – much like the NFL's Byron Leftwich. Now that he's developing the poise to match his physical gifts, he appears on the verge of establishing himself as a rising star. He'll certainly test Tennessee's defense when the Vols and Tigers collide Monday night in Baton Rouge.

"JaMarcus is one of the elite quarterbacks in this league and in the country once he gets going," Allen said. "We've got to not let him get that rhythm."

Disrupting Russell's rhythm is no easy task, however. Because he is so big and strong, would-be tacklers tend to bounce off of him. He's essentially a taller version of Alabama-Birmingham's Darrell Hackney, a 6-1, 245-pounder who gave the Vols fits in Game 1.

"JaMarcus is a lot like Hackney was – tough to tackle and wrap up," Allen said. "A lot of times one guy is not going to get him down."

Russell was one of Tennessee's top recruiting priorities three years ago before picking the Tigers over the Vols. He struggled a bit as a redshirt freshman last season, completing barely half of his passes (73 of 144) for 1,053 yards while splitting time with senior QB Marcus Randall.

Now that Randall has departed, Russell has the job to himself and a more confident attitude. That was evident in the 2005 opener against Arizona State, when he achieved career highs in completions (16), attempts (29) and yards (232).

"Last year he was kind of looking over his shoulder to see what Randall was doing," Allen said. "This year he's The Man. His confidence is up, especially after winning at Arizona State."

No doubt. Randall guided LSU 91 yards in the final minutes vs. ASU, winning the game himself in spectacular fashion. Rolling to his left on fourth-and-10, he appeared ready to tuck the ball and run. Showcasing his remarkable athleticism, he suddenly uncorked a 39-yard touchdown strike to Early Doucet that produced a dramatic 35-31 victory.

"That just shows, you have to be disciplined," Allen said. "He's big – a different style of quarterback – but it's all the same challenge."

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