Former No. 1 overall draft selection JaMarcus Russell continues to work toward a return to the NFL, four years after he last played for the Oakland Raiders. Although the 27-year-old quarterback remains unsigned, teams are starting to take notice of his progress.
In an interview with Jim Corbett of USA Today, Russell said reports of a pro day scheduled for Wednesday were inaccurate. His plan throughout the comeback process has been to work out with teams on a completely individual basis:
We never had a pro day date scheduled. We came up with the idea that if teams were interested, we'd go in there and work out at their place. It would be better with them having all their coaches there at the same time.
It would be better for me, too.
Corbett mentions the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears and New York Jets as teams that could be interested in getting a closer look at Russell, who's trying to showcase the talent that allowed him to become the first player off the board in 2007.
It meshes with what Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net is hearing from sources. He states that the Cardinals and Bears are the two franchises showing the most interest. Both reports cite a near-30-pound weight loss in recent months as a reason teams are tracking him more closely.
An interesting note from the USA Today article is that Russell is being reasonable with his expectations. While his sights are set on earning another chance to start in the NFL, the LSU product is searching for a team with a veteran starter to fit in behind at first.
It's a positive sign. There's a far better chance a team would take a chance on him based on his natural ability and renewed work ethic as a backup than if he was waiting for an opportunity to compete for a starting spot right away.
Russell has accounted for 18 passing touchdowns and 23 interceptions thus far in the NFL. So even teams that are seeing noticeable steps forward will proceed with caution. There's a growing trend in believing he will get another chance in some capacity, though.
Mike Freeman of CBS Sports talked with an NFC scout who definitely thinks Russell is working his way toward another opportunity: "I've been following his comeback story pretty closely. I think a lot of teams are. Good chance he gets a second shot."
Freeman goes on to make a key point: The league features a lack of depth at quarterback. When you add that to the fact that this year's draft class isn't riddled with promising prospects at the position, a former college star like Russell suddenly becomes more intriguing.
The fact that he remains without a team shows there's still work to do. But it would have been a surprise if somebody said two months ago, when the Alabama native was checking in at over 310 pounds, that he would be generating interest in such short order.
Russell must remain realistic about his chances throughout the process. After all, he's a player who sports a quarterback rating of 65 through 31 career games. Any comeback story will be a long-term grind rather than an instant return to stardom, if he gets signed.
That said, the strides he's making are clearly starting to generate some buzz around the league. His drive to succeed, which was questioned frequently during his first NFL stay, has seemingly returned. Now, he must prove he can remain focused on the task of earning a roster spot again.
If he does, the improbable comeback story might last a lot longer than expected.
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