JaMarcus Russell feeling more secure
Thursday, September 22, 2005 - 7:00 p.m.
By William Kalec
BATON ROUGE – Loaded with talent, absent of an identity, LSU is beginning to resemble its laidback quarterback, seemingly unfazed by the surplus of adversity gathered less than a month into this stuttered season. The Tigers are beginning to follow the tall guy with the tilted brim, trusting in a previously hidden confidence.
“Last year I was in and out,” sophomore JaMarcus Russell said. “This year, hopefully I’ll be in more than out.”
If Russell comes anywhere close to mimicking his first wire-to-wire collegiate start against Arizona State, Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux will likely remain on the shelf until the end of November - especially if LSU’s receivers cut Russell some slack and hang on to a few more balls. Overlooked because of Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller’s video-game-like statistics, Russell went 16-of-29 for 232 yards and a watershed touchdown pass in the Tigers’ 35-31 victory over the Sun Devils.
A popular pawn in the mind games Nick Saban loved to play, Russell spent much of last season lamenting his fragile, pass-to-pass status. In one series, out the next, back in, back out until it’s over. Forget getting into a flow.
And even though Coach Les Miles decided to keep competition between the quarterbacks open right up until game day, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher assured Russell he stood on much more stable ground before kickoff.
“It’s kind of hard. Because every time you do something wrong, you’re always peeking to the sideline and see if he’s coming to get you,” Russell said Wednesday, just days before the No. 3-ranked Tigers’ game against No. 10 Tennessee on Monday at 6:30 p.m.. “But you know, even if you do it right, you’re still looking to see. But now, it’s not like that. Coach says. ‘Play like you’re the only guy we have at that position.’ Like nothing is going to happen.
“It gave me a great energy boost, confidence boost,” Russell said, later. “Play like you have nothing to lose.”
Teammates raved about Russell’s offseason dedication, how he was almost reborn in the huddle, practicing with a sense of purpose. After ballooning a bit when seen at a summer passing camp, Russell dropped close to 15 pounds before August.
“When you are so much more gifted than everybody, you get away with bad habits,” Fisher said. “Now, they’re not bad habits at the (high school) level, because you’re gifted. Physically, you can do whatever. And you’re so much bigger than everybody. You can see things and do things that most guys can’t.
“It’s a testament to him that he’s willing to go back to the basics and be a hard-working guy and do it from the ground up instead of just relying on his ability. And it’s hard to do.”
Russell admitted there were instances last season where he stepped to the line unclear exactly what route his receivers were going to run. Compare that to now, when Fisher said Russell checks off and makes adjustments freely.
“Ability is one thing. Then, you have to apply the knowledge with ability at the proper situation in the proper moment,” Fisher said. “I mean, there’s a lot more to being a great football player than being a great athlete.
“That’s why there are only a few great ones. … The guys that can maximize their ability with the situation and knowledge of the game, those are the ones ya’ll write about.”