THE TIME WILL come when opponents taunt JaMarcus Russell, when defensive coaches and their units openly disrespect the young Raiders quarterback.
No one should blame the Kansas City Chiefs if they did it today.
Not after the last two seasons, during which Tom Cable, whether coaching the offensive line or the entire squad, proved he can develop a solid rushing attack in Oakland.
Not after Monday night, when running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush slashed and bashed the San Diego Chargers — as rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey alternated between dropping passes and disappearing.
It was only one game, yes, but Russell's high-powered arm was too inaccurate, too often. And this wasn't the first time.
In a league where good coaches make adjustments from series to series, the new defensive staff in K.C. can be expected to emphasize stopping the run when the two teams meet at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs remember being blistered last season by McFadden, who rolled up 164 yards on the ground. They have studied Russell's 12-for-30 performance against San Diego. And they realize the Oakland receiving corps is down to shards and scraps.
The natural maneuver for Kansas City's defective defense is to load up against McFadden and Bush, put eight or nine men near the line of scrimmage and dare the Raiders to throw.
When the Chiefs tried that tactic last week at Baltimore, they were passed off the field by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. He threw 43 times, completing 26, for 307 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked once, suggesting K.C. still has the feeblest pass rush in the NFL.
The Ravens rushed for 198 yards, but it was Flacco's passing, in schemes designed by new coordinator Al Saunders, that allowed them to dominate the clock and, eventually, send the Chiefs home with a 38-24 defeat.
Logic dictates this game will shape up as an opportunity for Oakland passing-game coordinator Ted Tollner and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett to show how effectively they have applied their combined 86 years experience to Russell's development.
Given that Johnnie Lee Higgins likely will be sidelined with a shoulder injury, trimming to number of usable wideouts to three — rookies Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, veteran Javon Walker — it's also an opportunity for the coaches to display their ability to adapt.
Will they draw up a few more plays with McFadden lined up as a receiver? Will they throw out of double-tight end formations? Will they, in short, trust in JaMarcus?
For Russell is bound to face perhaps the first basic test required to enter the fraternity of quality NFL quarterbacks: Can he lead the team to victory if a defense takes away his running game?
Not that this is going to be easy. There is the fact that tight end Zach Miller is the team's most accomplished and reliable target, which automatically limits the dimension of the passing game. There is the fact that Walker's year-plus in Oakland has been much more troubling than productive. And there is the sense that Heyward-Bey, drafted No. 7 overall, paid gazillions to stretch the field, could fail so spectacularly as to evoke fond memories of James Jett.
Yet none of these factors diminish Russell's own shortcomings, which include a tendency to fire inaccurately, especially outside the hash marks, where wideouts spend most of their time.
Russell against the Chargers completed only 3 of 18 passes to wideouts, the latest indication that getting the ball to the wide receivers has been the unit's biggest problem since he took over as the starter he was drafted to be.
Though Russell had some impressive games last season, notably in wins over Denver and Houston, lingering questions about accuracy and consistency continue. They should and will, as long as he's sailing passes five feet over the helmets of open receivers.
But today, against one of the weakest defenses he could ever expect to face, Russell should have a chance to assert himself and rebut the increasing number of skeptics, including myself, regarding his ability to become an elite quarterback.
Yes, he'll need a lot of aid from teammates not known for giving it.
But he can almost expect some help from the Kansas City defense.
If this is what JaMarcus gets and he can't take advantage of it, well, we've seen what can happen to young quarterbacks. A difficult job can become a lot more difficult.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org
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