|ESPN.com: NFL||[Print without images]|
"But he throws a catchable ball," Holland said about Russell. "It's a tight spiral, and it's coming right at you. He's got great arm delivery."Russell's height helps receivers. He stands tall in the pocket, and his delivery makes life easier for those catching. Even though he's 6-6, Russell releases the ball at about 6-8, giving receivers an extra half-second to spot the ball and pick up on its rotation. Like so many of the great quarterbacks who came from Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana, Russell has a natural strength about him. Like so many of the great throwers, he understands the mechanics of throwing. Brett Favre, for example, has an unorthodox way of throwing. As he releases the ball, he hops backward. That hop has allowed him to avoid hits to the legs and make more consecutive starts (221 and counting) than any other quarterback in league history. Russell has a different hop. He's athletic enough to set up quickly. His legs naturally fall into place directly below the width of his shoulders. By doing that, Russell is always in position to throw if a defender closes in. The positioning of his feet allows him to put the power of his 254-pound frame on his throws. "You've got to have the core balance in your body, and it all comes together when you're practicing," Russell said. "When you drop, you try to have core balance each and every time. Sometimes, you find guys off balance, and they don't have good core balance in their drop. It's just something to work on each and every practice." New Raiders coach Lane Kiffin doesn't have to work much with Russell's mechanics. But that doesn't mean the Raiders start with a finished product. About twice a practice this weekend, Russell pulled out of center a little early and fumbled snaps. A few times, he threw to areas where no receiver was present, a miscommunication that has to be worked out in time. "On one, it was the receiver and myself doing the wrong thing," Russell said. "It happens when you're starting new things. As far as the new guy, being hip to all that, you just try to get adjusted to different things." For the Raiders and their fans, patience will be needed with Russell. Great throwers need time to develop into great quarterbacks. Kiffin opened the competition at quarterback to Russell, Josh McCown and Andrew Walter. McCown might not have the strongest arm, but he's mobile and he has started. Walter has a decent arm, but he's slow afoot, a trait that usually results in sacks. Russell's the best man, but he needs time, and the West Coast offense usually takes a couple of years to learn. Should Kiffin start Russell, don't expect great stats. Bradshaw completed only 38.1 percent of his passes as a rookie in 1970. Elway hit only 47.4 percent of his throws as a Broncos rookie. Vince Young was the rookie of the year in 2006, but he completed only 51.5 percent of his passes. "He had a lot going through his mind, obviously," Kiffin said of Russell's practice debut. "We installed 82 plays. He did well, handled himself well. He's not winning the Super Bowl today. He's coming out here and trying to get a snap, take five steps back and throw it. So we're excited about his progress." Russell was born premature, weighing only 4 pounds. At LSU, Russell couldn't use his high school uniform number, 2, so he took No. 4. "I weighed only 4 pounds when I was born, so it kind of took some meaning to that," Russell said. With the Raiders, Russell chose the No. 2 last worn by Aaron Brooks. Seeing a 6-6 version of No. 2 with a rocket arm won't have Raiders fans in the Black Hole asking for the birth certificate of this quarterback. The arm and the spirals add new meaning to this Raiders jersey. John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.