ALAMEDA

QUARTERBACK JaMarcus Russell needs to do more for the Raiders than just whiz deep passes as he did Friday during their first spring minicamp.

He needs to race down the field to drills, as Jeff Garcia did.

He needs to pull aside the team's newest weapon — wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, last month's first-round draft pick — for instructional chats, as Garcia did.

He needs to be a leader, as Garcia was in just his first practice as a Raider.

Russell seems receptive to all this, which is a huge bonus for the Raiders, who are undoubtedly committed to him this season (and probably 2010, considering his never-changing status as the 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick).

"He needs to learn how to accept and embrace that," Raiders coach Tom Cable said of Russell's leadership demands. "Where is he? Somewhere in the middle. Is he there all the way? Not quite. He still has things to prove, but we keep pushing him."

Of course they do. Russell hasn't proven much other than possessing nuclear arm strength in a career encompassing only 16 starts.

A bitter rivalry isn't brewing. But he and Garcia barely chatted or stood near each other during Friday's first practice. They did slap hands at one point (after Russell completed his reps in a team drill), and they spoke highly of each other afterward.

Then again, they also don't come off like that quarterback tandem on the other side of the bay, where close buddies Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are vying for the 49ers' starting gig.


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Russell and Garcia have obviously contrasting playing styles (big gun vs. guy-on-the-run). And different leadership styles.

"People can have their opinion on what's going on, but those guys are not with you daily, so they don't really know," Russell said of perceptions regarding a lack of work ethic.

The Raiders yearn for Russell to become what Garcia already is — a proven quarterback eager to serve as a team voice and model employee, on the field and in meetings and the weight room.

Said Garcia: "He has to understand it takes a certain drive and dedication, not only how you perform on the field but how teammates follow your lead."

When the Raiders broke into position drills after their morning stretch, Russell was the one following Garcia — and three other quarterbacks — to the far field. Garcia sprinted there. Russell slowly jogged. When those drills ended, Garcia sprinted to where the team gathered for a water break; Russell walked with his helmet in hand.

Sure, this might be too much analysis of a trivial aspect of practice. But Cable also saw something later from Garcia that epitomized on-field leadership.

"When he makes a mistake, he's hard on himself," Cable said, "and that's good to see."

That's not to say Russell isn't hard on himself. But Russell is laid-back. He rarely shows the personality and charisma of a hard-nosed leader.

He surely has that capability somewhere inside his 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame. Friday, he did consort with teammates during water breaks, and he did praise the team's running game, which indeed is promising with Darren McFadden and newly signed fullback Lorenzo Neal.

Garcia's first impression of Russell: "He's extremely light on his feet for being as big as he is. He's a big quarterback. I don't think there's ever been one as big."

Don't worry, folks, Russell looks in shape. There aren't rumors as there were last year of him being 300 pounds at his prefight weigh-in.

"He looks like he's growing mentally, he's looking smooth, he's going to the right places and not knocking guys over with his throws, which he's capable of doing," Garcia added.

And what impresses Russell about Garcia?

"He has a lot of knowledge, due to the fact he's had some of these coaches before, and I can ask him how those guys roll on a daily basis," Russell said of Garcia.

Aside from taking a week off because of his uncle's death, Russell has been a regular in the Raiders' offseason program.

Cable's grading of Russell's first practice: "He looked OK to really good at times. He threw some deeper balls, some digs ... He was throwing them on time and really lit it up that way."

Here's a deep thought: Russell has four months to become the leader the Raiders need out of their quarterback — their starting quarterback, that is.

Contact Cam Inman at cinman@bayareanewsgroup.com.