Quarterback news is being made all over the NFL these days.
In San Francisco, where Shaun Hill has been named the starter. In Philadelphia, where Michael Vick is getting acquainted. In San Diego, where Philip Rivers signed a six-year, $92 million extension. In Minnesota, where the calliope and dancing elephants can mean only one thing: Brett Favre is back in the league.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are relatively drama-free at the position. JaMarcus Russell is the unquestioned starter. Jeff Garcia, who came to the team hoping to insinuate himself into a competition for the starting job, is discovering he never really had a shot. If you want breaking news, try the Napa cops, because there's nothing to talk about here.
Except maybe this:
Garcia, it says here, has a chance to have a bigger impact this season than any Raiders backup since Jim Plunkett in 1980. That's a pretty high bar, incidentally, and this isn't to predict Garcia will win the Super Bowl after taking over for an injured starter, as Plunkett did back in the day.
But considering who he is and how he got here, Garcia has value two different ways. One is obvious — Russell gets banged up, and Garcia steps in to give the team a chance. He's seen it all, he's done it all (well, almost), he doesn't panic and he can turn chicken feathers into a first down with his feet and his head.
It's a nice security blanket to have. Then again, if Russell proves as durable as he was last season, you're talking one start and maybe a couple dozen meaningful pass attempts for the backup.
But there's more than one way for a backup quarterback to make himself useful. Here Garcia brings something to the table, since his personality and life experience dovetail nicely with some of Russell's perceived shortcomings.
And by shortcomings, we're not talking so much about Russell's play. He finished last season with his two best games as a pro, and coach Tom Cable says he sees continued progress this summer. While Russell has intermittent accuracy issues, he hasn't turned the ball over in either exhibition game this summer.
But being a quarterback isn't just about making the plays. There's leadership to be considered, and here perhaps the fiery Garcia could be an influence on the laid-back Russell.
Garcia approaches the game with the urgency of a guy who had to fight for every scrap of playing time he could get. He made a name for himself at San Jose State. He played five years in the Canadian Football League before Bill Walsh convinced the 49ers to take a chance on him as Steve Young's backup. There's a reason he's still going at 39, playing for his sixth team in seven years — he doesn't want to let go of something he earned the hard way.
Russell took an entirely different path — highly recruited out of high school, taken with the top pick in the NFL draft out of LSU, signed a six-year, $68 million contract as a rookie.
You want to be careful when drawing conclusions about a guy's desire based on his demeanor. But it is accurate to say Russell sometimes gives the impression of a guy who's content taking things as they come as opposed to making things happen.
If you want to paint the difference between Russell and Garcia in more vivid hues, consider last week's scrimmages against the 49ers. Observers were struck by a) how much better the 49ers looked, b) how the 49ers, especially cornerback Nate Clements, taunted the Raiders, and c) how the Raiders just stood there and took it.
When it came time for something to be said, it was Garcia who called the offensive players together for a pep talk.
"He brought the guys up," Russell said afterward. "You can see some of the guys haven't been in that situation to where a guy (is) jumping on them like that. Jeff is a guy that's been in the NFL for quite some years. I think a lot of the young guys will take heed (of) that."
It would be in the Raiders' best interests if, next time, a certain young guy did.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.