THREE WEEKS REMOVED from their last appearance at the Oakland Coliseum, the Raiders on Sunday return to their unhappy home, which means the trial of JaMarcus Russell is back in session.
In the quarterback's last appearance before the court, a 23-3 loss to Denver on Sept. 27 at the Coliseum, he was chased off the field by an angry mob.
But for those who haven't already convicted Russell on offenses ranging from fraudulent quarterbacking and false dedication to gross negligence and acute indifference, this is another opportunity to examine the full scope of evidence.
Though I've knocked Russell numerous times in recent months, mostly for being clueless about responsibility, it's only fair to consider all facts before reaching a conclusion and sentencing him to a life term in the Prison of Public Ridicule, where every big-time NBA and NFL draft bust has a cell.
Railroading Russell so quickly would be a travesty. He deserves better.
Let us first consider his pre-professional training. He was a four-year starter at Williamson High in Mobile, Ala., where he became Alabama's all-time prep passing leader, with 10,744 yards. He also was considered a good runner. He completed 219 of 372 passes as a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior who was athletic enough to play basketball and throw the javelin.
Choosing among multiple scholarship offers, Russell on signing day chose LSU over Florida State. After a redshirt
Russell shined as a junior, completing 67.8 percent of his passes, with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was voted MVP of his final game, a 41-14 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
While at LSU, Russell added an inch in height — and about 40 pounds. With one year of eligibility left, he declared for the NFL draft.
Observers marveled at Russell's powerful arm and apparent composure. Most NFL scouts also saw a raw talent still in the developmental stage, capable of going either way, as dictated by his dedication — and his initial exposure to pro football.
Russell was drafted No. 1 overall in 2007 by the Raiders, the least stable and most reactionary organization in major American sports.
Oakland has the thinnest front office in the NFL and an owner, Al Davis, who doubles as the general manager and generally dictates the roster. Coaches are middle men, often taking abuse from above and sometimes being disrespected from below and being replaced frequently.
Russell was handed over to a first-year head coach, Lane Kiffin, who had been plucked straight from a college, USC, where he shared offensive coordinator duties.
Having turned to one retread (Kerry Collins) in 2004-05 and another (Aaron Brooks) in 2006, the '07 Raiders were left without a starting quarterback. There was Josh McCown, a career backup joining his third NFL organization, and Andrew Walter, the previous heir apparent who remained on the roster for no discernible reason.
With training camp under way and negotiations with Russell needlessly contentious, the Raiders summoned veteran Daunte Culpepper, a former Pro Bowler still recovering from major knee surgery.
Russell signed in Week 2, tying a kid who needed tutelage to a dysfunctional organization, with a rookie NFL coach and not one minute of training camp.
Kiffin, a former college quarterback, consistently said Russell needed to be brought along slowly and carefully. This made sense.
Russell made his first NFL start on Dec. 30, 2007, roughly 15 weeks after he signed. This was questionable.
Less than a year later, Kiffin, a former high school quarterback, was replaced by Tom Cable, an offensive line coach.
McCown and Culpepper, who were gone after the 2007 season, have been replaced in 2009 by Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye, neither of whom can challenge Russell.
The most experienced wideout likely to play, Chaz Schilens, has 15 career catches and has yet to play a down in 2009. The offensive coordinator role that in '08 belonged to 45-year-old Greg Knapp has been handed, in essence, to Ted Tollner, 69, and Paul Hackett, 62.
This is not to say someone whose NFL career is born to unfortunate circumstances is blameless. After all, the presence of Russell's DNA can't be denied. But if one is preparing to render a verdict, it's only fair those circumstances be considered.
The last time Russell was before us, he was battered with sounds of disapproval, as if his failings are entirely on him. Out of fairness, it should be accepted that few, if any, of his crimes were committed by one young man acting alone.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.