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Building a Russell-friendly system

It’s interesting to note that both starting wide receivers, who would stand to benefit the most from having JaMarcus Russell on the field, think it’s too soon to put the rookie in a game.

Following Sunday’s 24-17 loss to Houston, wide receiver Jerry Porter told Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole anyone calling for Russell at this point should “shut the (heck) up. And I mean it. Write it.”

He wasn’t speaking only out of anger following a loss. Porter talked about how the Bengals rushed No. 3 overall pick Akili Smith, and then later took their time with No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer.

“They gave Carson Palmer enough time to develop (behind Jon Kitna) and din’t put him out there until he had the best chance to succeed,” Porter said.

A day later, Curry, speaking with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, seemed in agreement.

“I don’t think the offense is to the point where you want to put your franchise player out there and end his career before it gets started,” Curry said. “Until we get something stable on offense to where he can come in and perform to his abilities, I don’t think this offense will help him out . . . I don’t think it will be a comfortable situation for him, personally.”

Kiffin talked Monday about putting the proper pieces around Russell, creating an environment for success.

It goes further than that, because the system will need tweaking as well.

If it looks as if the Raiders’ current offense isn’t suited to Russell’s skills, it is because it’s not.

The Raiders, as currently constituted, are always on the lookout for the next first down. Russell’s talents suggest a passer who can strike at any moment. It is said he can throw any type of pass, but it is the deep throw and the threat of the deep throw which will open everything else up.

The Raiders aren’t built to throw deep, mostly because of their receivers and tackles.

Porter is avearging 17.5 yards per catch this season, eighth best in the league for receivers with 15 or more receptions. But he is more of a medium-depth receiver who can be run down from behind by just about any cornerback in the NFL.

Curry is a classic third-down, possession receiver. He’s most effective in the slot, probing open areas and not looking to go the distance.

When Mike Williams was around, the Raiders had three good-sized receivers who were not burners and looked to do the same thing. It took 5-foot-8 Tim Dwight, 32 years old, exactly one game to accomplish more than Williams did in seven. Dwight’s not the longterm answer, but at least he provides a different look and a complementary style.

The hope is that at some point Johnnie Lee Higgins, a more explosive player who is said to have better football speed than 40-yard-dash time, can one day become a deep threat.

Expect the Raiders receiving corps to look different next year with receivers who can help the Raiders capitalize on what Russell has to offer. There’s always a need for someone like Curry, but don’t be surprised if he and Higgins are the only returnees, providing Higgins develops as hoped.

A catch-and-run scatback in the Charlie Garner mold wouldn’t hurt, either.

The other problem is the pass protection. As poor as McCown played against Houston, his mobility was a huge upgrade from Culpepper. Culpepper’s three rushing touchdowns against Miami were false hope regading his ability to run, which was borne out in the following three games.

McCown measured off first down scrambles and got out of sack situations. He had fairly consistent pressure but was only sacked once.

Russell runs better than Culpepper, but not as well as McCown. He will be looking to throw the ball, not run it, and the Raiders as currently constituted aren’t ready for a quarterback who is sure to have some indecisive moments where he holds the ball too long.

Pass protecting tackles will be high on Oakland’s off-season shopping list.

Kiffin and Greg Knapp never planned on Russell being a major factor this year, anyway. The original hope was Jeff Garcia could come in and be a resourceful bridge to a more explosive future, and when that didn’t work out, they brought in McCown.

That doesn’t mean Russell won’t be getting snaps at some point this year to get him acclimated to the intensity and speed of an NFL game.

But Russell won’t get the chance to be anything special without players which enhance his skills, and that can’t happen until they get through this season.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer