Jim Plunkett is a two-time Super Bowl winner, a former first-round draft pick and one of the most popular players in Raiders' history. As such, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed, and what it takes to overcome adversity to do it.
Now 61 and a co-host on the team's weekly The Silver and Black Show, Plunkett stopped by the Raiders training camp facilities in Napa on Tuesday and watched from the sidelines as Oakland went through its morning practice.
Plunkett watched the entire workout but paid particular attention to quarterback JaMarcus Russell, whose careers have, in some ways, mirrored one another.
Both entered the NFL as the first overall pick in the draft with ridiculously high expectations, both played on sub-par teams early in their careers and both heard the word ‘bust' tossed around in conjunction with their name.
Plunkett, who played with New England and later San Francisco before turning his career around with the Raiders, survived his struggles and went on to lead the Raiders to Super Bowl wins in 1981 and '83.
"I wish my career could have gone (up) the whole way but I was in situations in New England and San Francisco that weren't very good," said Plunkett, the MVP of Super Bowl XV. "I feel if I had started with the Raiders I would have had a lot more Super Bowls under my belt, but I wasn't that fortunate."
Plunkett has kept a close eye on Russell, the Raiders' franchise quarterback who is already feeling considerable pressure from fans, coaches and the media in this, just his third NFL season.
Like most observers to the Raiders camp this season, Plunkett has seen the repeated incompletions, the high passes that sail over intended receivers' heads, the lack of timing with his receivers. All of them, Plunkett said, are problems Russell needs to correct if he is to ever lead Oakland out of its current state of abyss.
"He throws the ball late often, which he shouldn't, because he (could) get away with it at the college level," Plunkett said. "His arm was so strong he could get it there in a hurry. These guys are a little bit quicker and anticipate a little bit more. I was talking to Ted Tollner after practice and he thinks JaMarcus is getting better on throwing routes more on time, and that's what he needs to do. That will take pressure off him and off the offensive line because they won't have to hold their blocks as long.
"And he needs to become more accurate, there's no doubt about that. It gives the receiver a chance to catch the ball with some separation and make some plays."
Accuracy has been the biggest hurdle for Russell ever since he entered the league as the top pick in 2006. He completed only 53.8 percent of his throws last season, which was the second-lowest mark among NFL starters. Only Cleveland's Derek Anderson (50.2) had a lower completion percentage.
Part of the problem was that the Raiders' wide receiving corps was a mess in 2008. Players struggled to stay healthy, and even when they were, they failed to make big plays more often than not.
In order for Russell's numbers to improve, Plunkett said, the rest of Oakland's offense needs to step up, as does the quarterback himself.
"You need to run the ball to protect the quarterback, you need to pass protect. All those are part of helping a quarterback do what he can do best," Plunkett said. "The other thing is you have to play defense. You have to give the guy the ball back in good field position. You don't want to have the defense be on the field the whole time or give up points and then as soon as you get on the field you have to go catch up all the time.
"That was one of my problems early in New England. We were always behind and had to play catch-up and that's hard on any quarterback. You get knocked around, rushers can tee off on the tackles because they don't have to worry about the run because you're playing catch-up. That makes it more difficult on the offensive line and quarterback."
But Plunkett, who endured harsh criticism both in New England and San Francisco, realizes much of Russell's progress depends on the young quarterback himself.
"It's time to step up a little bit and take more responsibility of that offense on his shoulders," Russell said. "It's been almost two years now, and I think he's better, he's made some progress, but he needs to show this team that when it's third-and-long he can convert, that when a big play is needed he can come up with it."
Russell didn't exactly have a strong morning practice. He missed numerous open wide receivers, fired passes well off their intended targets and had one pass intercepted by Stanford Routt during the team scrimmage part of practice.
One might think a few words for Russell from a Super Bowl MVP like Plunkett might be welcomed at this point, but so far the former Raiders star has resisted offering his input.
"I don't talk to him a whole lot. I don't like to step on anybody's toes, I'm not paid to give advice," Plunkett said. "If he was seeking it I'd be happy to talk with him or if he has a little trouble I go and console him after a game but not much."
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From one QB to another: Plunkett on Russell
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