ALAMEDA, Calif. (May 4, 2007) -- JaMarcus Russell dropped back and fired a pass through tight coverage that hit fellow rookie Johnathan Holland between the 1 and the 8 on his jersey.
The top pick with the rocket arm made an immediate impression on the Oakland Raiders in his first practice.
"I think that kid, 18, is in there getting a rubdown," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "Caught that square-in, I bet he's got some markings on his chest. If nothing else, we're going to learn to catch with our hands or somebody's going to the hospital for some trauma. That kid's got a live arm so let's have some fun with it."
Russell's first day of practice showed off the inconsistencies that almost all rookies have when they make the transition to the NFL. He was able to drill spirals through tight coverage, but also fumbled two snaps from center, overthrew Jerry Porter on a deep pass down the sideline and missed the target on some shorter throws.
Russell admitted to a few nerves before his first day as a pro.
"At first, man, just getting out there, it felt strange, just to be able to get back in ball again and to be out there with those guys," Russell said. "I calmed down a lot."
Even though he didn't get a chance to heave the ball 80 yards like he supposedly is able, Russell's strong arm was the talk of the day among his new teammates.
"It looks like someone hired a JUGS machine and put a jersey on it," Porter said. "Man, he can throw the ball. I see why he's the first overall."
Despite the enthusiasm surrounding Russell's arrival, the Raiders are planning to bring him along gradually and they had him working behind Andrew Walter and Josh McCown in most drills. Coach Lane Kiffin said the three quarterbacks all got equal time and the rotation would stay that way for now.
Kiffin said he was pleased with the rookie's performance despite a few first-day jitters.
"He had a lot going through his mind obviously," Kiffin said. "We installed 82 plays this morning for him. He did well, handled himself well. He's not winning the Super Bowl today. He's coming out here and trying to get a snap, take five steps back and throw it. So we're excited about his progress."
After almost every throw, one of his coaches or McCown pulled Russell aside to give him a quick piece of advice.
"That speaks to his character. He's a kid who wants to learn," McCown said. "When you get special players like that who have the talent and the will to learn, that's when you get greatness. The sky's the limit for him if he maintains this attitude and continues to learn and be open to grow. I think you'll see him develop rather quickly."
McCown is the most experienced quarterback on the Raiders' roster, having made 22 career starts before being acquired in a draft-day trade from Detroit last weekend. Walter struggled in his first season, going 2-6 as a starter and committing 22 turnovers while throwing just three touchdown passes.
But the two know they are just keeping the starting seat warm until Russell is ready to take over.
"He's special. He's gifted, no question about it," McCown said. "Now it's just about honing his skills. ... We need to help him hone those skills and help him develop into a big-time quarterback because the skills are all there. The arm is unbelievable. He's a terrific kid and he's fun to be around. I look forward to working with him."
Russell went 25-4 as LSU's starting quarterback, capping his career by throwing for 332 yards and two TDs in a 41-14 Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame. He finished his career with the Tigers by throwing the second most touchdown passes (52) and having the second highest completion percentage (61.9 percent) in school history.
That success combined with a 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame and a rocket arm made Russell the Raiders' choice with the No. 1 pick last week. The Raiders are building their future around the 21-year-old quarterback, hoping he will help transform an offense that scored just 12 touchdowns last season on the way to a 2-14 record.
But his teammates are tempering expectations.
"I think we'll have to have realistic goals for the guy. Everyone else is going to put a lot of pressure on him," receiver Ronald Curry said. "It's just the first day. The playbook is small for everybody. It's tailored down. I don't think you can get a true indication of what he can do right now."