Raiders hurting Russell's development

Tom Cable says the decision to strip offensive coordinator Greg Knapp of the play-calling duties was his and his alone. While that's debatable, the bottom line is that the Raiders continue to do more harm than good when it comes to the development of quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

Knapp, who took over the play-calling chores when owner Al Davis fired Lane Kiffin four games into the regular season, was told by Cable prior to last week's loss to Carolina that he would no longer do so and instead was relegated to relaying the calls into Oakland's quarterbacks.

The change didn't do much to spark the Raiders' offense, which looked only marginally better than it had while getting shut out by Atlanta a week earlier. Still, Cable stands by the move and insists it was his doing and not that of Davis, as many have speculated.

"He had no input at all," Cable said Wednesday. "We talked about it after I had done it."

According to Cable, he felt a change was in order after seeing Oakland's offense get shut out against the Falcons and continuing a trend that has plagued the Raiders since Kiffin was fired. Oakland averaged 19.5 points under Cable but has managed just 7.0 points a game since and has failed to score a touchdown in its last two games.

"It's just my personal feeling about what I believe is the right thing based on where we're at right now," Cable said. "It's time to start scoring points. That's why I made the decision that I did, because somehow, some way, I can't stand there and fell like helpless about that situation. I've got to do something about it."

But as Knapp pointed out, the change could do more harm than good. Russell, who is already feeling the heat from being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007, threw only one interception in his first 99 pass attempts under Kiffin but hasn't played as well in recent weeks when the Raiders tried to open up the passing game.

Russell has thrown interceptions in four of his last five starts and has a rating of 55.5 since Kiffin was fired.

"It's important that there are as many constants as you can have for a young quarterback's development," Knapp said Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time since being relieved of the play-calling duties. "It's important that you try to keep some consistency for him. He'll be going through his third play-caller now when he gets back on the field. I'm frustrated because I'm trying to help this guy develop and become a very good quarterback in this league.

"It's very hard because you have to get to know the new play-caller and what he's feeling. Tom will do the right thing. He'll talk to the quarterback, he'll get to know him well and get a feel for what he likes in the game plan. So he'll do his homework to prepare for the game but it's still, as a process, for that young quarterback to have to go through, to have to learn what's that play caller feeling."

Russell has had enough to deal with already this season. He lost the only receiver he had a chance to work with at length before the season (Drew Carter) to a season-ending knee injury, lost his head coach and the man responsible for bringing Russell along cautiously (Kiffin) due to the lack of talent surrounding him, and has had to play behind an inferior offensive line with mediocre receiving talent.

While it's true the young QB has made his share of mistakes this season, the Raiders have done very little to help him in his first full season as a starting quarterback. The personnel decisions they made in the offseason have not paid off, putting even more weight and pressure on Russell's shoulders. The change of the head coach was bad enough but the continued changing of the play-callers -- three in a six-game span -- would be a major stumbling block for any veteran quarterback, let alone someone as young and inexperienced at the NFL level as Russell.

The bad part is that the national perception of Russell right now is not good. With rookie quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and even Joe Flacco enjoying solid first years in the NFL, Russell's struggles have been magnified and the knee-jerk reaction even among Oakland fans has been to criticize the young QB.

But that's short-sighted. Look at the entire picture and put any other quarterback in Russell's shoes under the same circumstances with the same cast of characters -- owner included -- and they'd all have problems.

And unless the atmosphere and conditions in Oakland change, Russell's progress could be seriously derailed.


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