Longtime starter Garcia adjusting to being backup for young QB Russell

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Of all the changes that Jeff Garcia has faced since signing a one-year contract with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason, accepting a job as quarterback JaMarcus Russell's backup has been the most challenging.

In addition to the usual adjustments of learning a new offense, Garcia -- who has 116 career starts in 10 NFL seasons -- has wrestled with the idea of being a reserve.

Career Stats
Comp/Att: 2,264/3,676

Passing Yards: 25,537

TD/INT: 161/83

"It's not an easy role to accept because of the competitive nature that is within me," Garcia said Saturday in between practices at the Raiders' mandatory minicamp. "I struggled with it when I was in Philadelphia. I had a hard time just sitting on the sideline watching."

Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, is the unquestioned starter in Oakland, but he's already beginning to feel the pressure after leading the Raiders to a 5-11 finish last season while throwing 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

At the NFL owners meetings in March, Raiders coach Tom Cable told reporters that Russell needed to take on more of a leadership role with the team and made veiled references to the quarterback's work ethic.

Adding Garcia, the Raiders hope, will help Russell.

Still, the role of mentor is a new one for 39-year-old Garcia, who played his first NFL game in 1999 when Russell was still a high school freshman.

"It's about understanding your role, and I understand what I have come into with this team," said Garcia, who has passed for 25,537 yards in his NFL career. "I understand that JaMarcus is the starting quarterback. I do believe that I am a starting quarterback, as far as caliber is concerned. Hopefully by the example that I set ... JaMarcus can see and understand that this is why I've been able to play this game so long and why I've been able to have the success that I've had.

"Hopefully that competitive drive is just what allows JaMarcus to increase his own competitive spirit. The greatest understanding that needs to come out of all this is that this is a small window in our lives. It's a small window of opportunity and to make the most of this opportunity."

While in Philadelphia in 2006, Garcia came off the bench and led the Eagles to five straight wins in December and a spot in the playoffs. He did it despite a growing uneasiness over his situation as the backup to starter Donovan McNabb.

"That didn't mean that I was a negative distraction to the team," Garcia said. "I still tried to be whatever I needed to be for Donovan, which is what I'll be here for JaMarcus. But deep inside, we're all competitors, and we all play this game to be on the field, to not be on the sidelines."

But Garcia's biggest contribution might come in the meeting rooms, where the Raiders hope Garcia's attention to detail will rub off on Russell.

"He brings a lot," Russell said of Garcia. "He's a good people person. He's got good people skills on and off the field. I just sit and watch and admire what he does."

Cable likes what he has seen so far from his top two quarterbacks.

"What I see out there is two guys that are trying to learn some new things and trying to get their feet settled where they need to be in terms of understanding and all that," Cable said. "That relationship I think is really good. It has been good in the meetings and all that. Jeff has a purpose for why he is here, and I think he has embraced that."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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