Kiffin keeps tight reins on QB Russell Print
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Saturday, 09 August 2008 16:05
NFL Headline News

 OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -The first exhibition game gave the Oakland Raiders the chance to show off how good their running could be this year.
As for how JaMarcus Russell will be throwing the ball, coach Lane Kiffin didn't give his prized quarterback many chances to pass in the 18-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night.
Russell attempted just five passes in his two series, completing two of them. Kiffin didn't call for any of the bootlegs or rollouts Russell has been successful running in practice that are such a key component of Oakland's offense. He didn't want to expose his star quarterback to a possible hard hit outside the pocket.
That will have to change soon if Kiffin wants to give the inexperienced Russell the chance to work on those plays before the regular season starts Sept. 8.
``We'll have to do more with him because that's what our offense has to have,'' Kiffin said Saturday. ``In the couple series, he was going to get limited snaps. I just didn't see a reason to do that in the first game. Remember, it's a long time until we play a game that counts.''
For veteran quarterbacks, preseason games are almost a nuisance in which the biggest goal is avoiding injuries. But for Russell, it will be more important because he had such limited playing time as a rookie.
``He'll play more next week so he'll throw more in general. Part of that is game plan, part of that is how the flow of the game is going,'' Kiffin said. ``It wasn't by design for him to have so few attempts but we knew he was not going to play very much.''
Kiffin said he called fewer passes because of the success Oakland had running the ball. The Raiders gained 248 yards on the ground, with Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and Louis Rankin all having success behind Oakland's zone-blocking scheme.
``Coach felt like that was enough for me,'' Russell said. ``I thought we were getting in a groove. I wanted to go. But that's coach's decision.''
After being the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, Russell missed the entire preseason in a contract dispute. By the time he signed his $61 million deal three days after the season began, he had fallen so far behind that it took until December for him to get on the field.
Russell played as a reserve in three games before starting the season finale against San Diego. He went 23-for-31 for 224 yards and a touchdown in his only start.
While Russell is the franchise quarterback, Oakland's offense is still built on the run. Kiffin said last year that if the Raiders had to pass the ball, they would not win. That proved correct as their only victories in a 4-12 season came when they had success on the ground.
Even with Russell as the quarterback this year, Kiffin is not sure the team has the tools to become a passing offense. The biggest questions are on the offensive line, where tackles Kwame Harris and Cornell Green have struggled in pass blocking in practice.
``I don't know yet that we can all of a sudden be a pass-heavy team and throw the ball all over the place,'' Kiffin said. ``With a right tackle that was injured the last half of the year coming back, a new left tackle, and not very much line depth, there's no part of me right now that could tell you we would be able to change right now from where we were last year.''
Notes: The most notable injury from the game was a broken right thumb for rookie safety Tyvon Branch, a fourth-round pick. Branch will undergo surgery but should be able to play with a cast. However, he won't be able to return kicks. ... In his absence, CB Chris Johnson and Rankin will be the main kick returners. Johnnie Lee Higgins also could get a shot after returning a punt 53 yards for a score against the Niners.
 

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