By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, June 8th, 2009 at 11:25 am in Oakland Raiders.
Tom Cable wasn’t afraid to use the term, and in fact he encouraged it.
Jeff Garcia was brought in to be a mentor to JaMarcus Russell, and not just a backup quarterback.
You have a mental image of the two poring over film together, utilizing salt and pepper shakers, and forks and knives as imaginary backfields at lunch when the team convenes at this week’s organized team activity.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Down deep, Garcia still wants to start. Russell realizes this, and a part of him may want to keep Garcia at arm’s length.
It’s a fact that young players don’t always want to be mentored, and that veteran players don’t always want to be mentors.
Look no further than the 2004 season, when the Raiders parted ways with two of the most productive wide receivers in NFL history, neither of whom were enamored with the thought of being a mentor.
When Norv Turner took over for Bill Callahan in 2004, it became obvious during training camp that Ronald Curry had to play. With the blessing of Al Davis, Turner gave Tim Brown a choice _ stick around as the fifth receiver and occasionally be inactive on game day, or accept his release.
Brown took the latter and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he essentially met the same fate.
During the season, Rice began coming out in certain formations and saw his production dwindle. On Sept. 19, Rice failed to catch a pass against Buffalo, snapping an NFL-record 274-game streak of games played with a reception.
Like Brown, Rice wanted no part of a smaller role and helping bring along players who were going to play more than he was. Davis later confirmed that Rice came to him to complain about the end of the streak and request a trade, which was eventually granted.
Not that the Raiders young receivers were all that interested about acquiring more knowledge, anyway. I remember one day in the Raiders locker room when Rice was out catching extra passes while Curry, Doug Gabriel and others were talking in the locker room.
Within earshot, and without being asked a question, Rich Gannon called over a few media members and wondered aloud how it is the Raiders could have the most productive receiver in NFL history and that the team’s young receivers weren’t out watching him.
“I mean, why wouldn’t you follow him around every moment, seeing how he does it?,” Gannon said.
Then there was Charles Woodson, who was afforded the opportunity as a rookie to play alongside Eric Allen, a veteran with an entire black book of strategies on every wide receiver he had ever faced.
Allen and Woodson were close friends. Allen used to joke his kids’ favorite player was C-Wood. He waited for Woodson to ask about the black book and how to play receivers, but the time never came.
I asked Woodson about it and he said he wasn’t comfortable loading up on information. He said he played better with a “blank slate” which allowed him to react and rely on his natural ability.
Contrast that with Nnamdi Asomugha, who as a rookie in 2003 immediately approached safety Rod Woodson and asked, “What do you have for me?.”
The point is, there is no guarantee Russell and Garcia will evolve into a mentor-student relationship. Which doesn’t mean Russell can’t learn simply from being pushed by him in practice and meeting rooms every day. On that basis alone, not to mention attrition at the quarterback position, Garcia’s signing was a good one.
The bulk of the knowledge Russell acquires won’t be from Garcia, but quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett.
“(Russell) has got a tremendous quarterbacks coach. No one talks about the addition of Paul Hackett,” Jon Gruden told Sirius Satellite Radio last week. “I think he’s really going to reach out and help JaMarcus Russell.”
The process continues this week, with Wednesday’s session open to the media.