Fresh Start

Everyone makes mistakes, but when you are a professional athlete, they are magnified. Russell only played in only eight games last year, sitting out the second half of the season because he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy. Jon Gruden coached Russell in Oakland and feels the troubled defensive tackle will make the most of his last chance.

Russell is entering his seventh NFL season, but he has not played up to expectations in third millennium. In 1998 Russell had his best season recording ten sacks. He followed that effort with nine and a half sacks in 1999. Since then his numbers have fallen off as his off field troubles rose. The starting job will not be handed to Russell; Ellis Wyms has been waiting behind Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland for four years. Wyms has been in Sapp's shadow for long enough and will finally have an opportunity to shine. The competition should be stiff, but there will be plenty of playing time to go around. Depth is important at every NFL position, but the big bodies on the defensive line need breathers more than any other position. Russell will be under the microscope due to his bumpy history, so it will be important for him to make good decisions from day one. The power vacuum created by the departure of Sapp has left the locker room in the capable hands of Derrick Brooks, but no one can do it alone. Russell can redefine himself as a hard working leader or a chump looking for one last payday. Bucs' fans are hoping for the former while doubters seem convinced at the latter. Fans should give Russell a chance to start over and help the team get back into the play-offs. The man has spent his get out of jail free cards so the next missed step will be his last. In the past players left the Buccaneers to blossom into great players. Times are changing and this trend will be reversed if Russell plays the way Gruden thinks he can.

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