ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Banished to the bench in a disappointing third NFL season, JaMarcus Russell believes he's still the Oakland Raiders' quarterback of the future.
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"Russell has obvious talent, but I was not a Russell advoacte due to his suspect work ethic. I took a lot of heat, saying that Rashard Mendenhall would be a better player than Darren McFadden, and stand by that assessment.
"As far as Heyward-Bey, it's a classic case of the Raiders overdrafting height, weight, speed. The other rookie wide receiver, Louis Murphy, has been much better than Heyward-Bey. Let's hope for the Raiders' sake that these three talented young men are able to develop in the near future."
"We all have road bumps in our life, and this just happens to be one bump," Russell said Thursday in his first public comments since losing the starting job to Bruce Gradkowski last month.
Russell addressed many topics during the interview, saying he was "embarrassed" when he was benched by coach Tom Cable, that his weight and work ethic aren't a problem and that he will not renegotiate his contract to take less money than he is owed.
Russell said he has learned by watching Gradkowski lead the Raiders (4-8) to two wins in three starts and that he will be a better quarterback when he has another chance at starting in the NFL.
"A totally different JaMarcus," Russell said when asked what people would see when he plays again. "People are going to have their opinion, and I really don't pay too much attention to that. I worry about JaMarcus and JaMarcus only."
If Russell doesn't throw another pass this season, he will be the first quarterback since 1998 to have a rating under 50 with at least 200 attempts. Three quarterbacks did it that season, including perhaps the all-time biggest draft bust, Ryan Leaf.
"At first, it was very embarrassing to get pulled out," he said. "I think that would be for anybody. I kind of took it, sat down and thought about it, just prayed about the situation."
Russell's performance was hurt by injuries to key players on offense and the struggles of the Raiders' rookie receivers. But Russell's own inaccuracy and lack of pocket presence also played a big role and led to his benching. Russell said he would give himself a harsh grade for his performance but said there was plenty of blame to go around.
The Raiders' offense looks revived under Gradkowski, who has thrown six touchdown passes in his three starts, leading two fourth-quarter comebacks.
"Guys are just making plays around him," Russell said. "That's what a quarterback needs, his surrounding players. That's what was going on."
The Raiders believed Russell would be the quarterback to turn around the struggling franchise when they drafted him No. 1 out of LSU in 2007 and eventually gave him a contract with about $32.5 million in guaranteed money. But his career has sputtered from the start.
Russell had a lengthy holdout as a rookie before finally signing his deal after the first game of the season. He briefly played down the stretch before receiving the starting job a year ago. Russell was inconsistent in his first full season as a starter, but he showed some bright signs with a strong finish to the season that included wins over the Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Instead of having a breakthrough in his third season, Russell has regressed and been regularly booed at home games. He has completed just 46.8 percent of his passes this season, with nine interceptions and five lost fumbles and the second-worst passer rating in the league at 47.7.
Russell can take some solace in the recent performances by Tennessee's Vince Young and San Francisco's Alex Smith, former first-round picks who have shown marked improvement in their return to the lineup after losing their jobs.
"He still has a lot ahead of him and a lot of opportunities to turn it around," Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, also a former first-round pick, said earlier this week. "He's just got to stay positive and just got to study more and put the work in in the weight room, put the work in on the field, stay after practice, do the extra things to get ahead as a quarterback in the National Football League, because the room for error for quarterbacks is always so small. But at the same time, you can overcame anything, because he's young and has a strong arm, and he needs to just believe in himself, keep that confidence and turn things around this offseason."
Russell said he's willing to do whatever it takes to compete for the Raiders' starting job next season. But he said he will not renegotiate his contract.
"Oh, no. That's over and done with," he said. "I don't even consider that as a part of it."
Cable said he is confident that Russell could perform if he needed to be put back in the lineup because of an injury to Gradkowski. Cable is pleased with the work and the attitude he has seen from Russell these past few weeks.
"He's doing the right things," Cable said. "He's working. He's doing what you should be, preparing himself. But I absolutely feel any competitor or athlete at this level wants the opportunity to go back in there."
Notes:Raiders LG Robert Gallery will miss the rest of the season with a lower back injury that he sustained last weekend agianst the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cable said Thursday that Gallery will need a "repair" done, and the injury isn't career-threatening. Chris Morris is expected to take Gallery's spot in the lineup Sunday against the Washington Redskins. ... The game against the Redskins will be blacked out on local television because the Raiders didn't sell out the game in time. The Raiders' last six home games have been blacked out.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press