Lazy rap is pain to Raiders' `brain'

Football: Defensive tackle Darrell Russell says he's too smart to lay down on the job, but the notion persists that he has an attitude problem.

January 12, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Darrell Russell can think analytically and express his thoughts in complete sentences.

This is not something most people point out about themselves. But strange as it sounds, Russell said his intelligence is part of the reason he is labeled a guy who occasionally takes plays off.

"I graduated college [Southern California] in 3.5 years," Russell said. "And I can complete a thought. So that tells you right there that nobody wants to talk to me, because I'm just killing stereotypes.

"Either way, I'm going to be a millionaire, whether I play football or not. Being that I don't need this, I'm not going to give any token smiles, do any tap-dancing. I'm not what people want to see."

Offensive linemen, on Russell's good days, definitely do not want to see him. Because when things are going good for him, he can be dominating.

The problem with Russell is that he sometimes has bad days. Other Pro Bowl players have bad days, too, but, for some reason, Russell's are magnified and attributed to a lack of effort.

He disputes that notion and says his lack of production at times this season has to do with how he's handled by offensive linemen and the media.

"My whole thing is, when I approach this game, I'm like, `If you're going to beat me, then beat me,' " Russell said. "But before you do that, I'm going to give my all first. So far, I haven't been beaten.

"I have no problem with somebody beating me, but anybody that has done halfway decent against me, they can't do that without some assistance or holding me all day and going for my knees and ankles."

Such has been Russell's struggles this season that he did not make the Pro Bowl after two consecutive selections. He said he has been triple-teamed often, which in turn, allowed fellow defensive tackle Grady Jackson to lead the team with 8 1/2 sacks.

With all the attention - Russell said he gets doubled by the guard and center, then a running back comes over to help on most passing plays - his 2 1/2 sacks and 31 tackles are skimpy. There was one three-game stretch this season when Russell, 6 feet 5, 320 pounds, had one tackle.

That was not at all acceptable to Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said just about everything except that's there's a shred of truth in the rap on Russell.

"Darrell is mad at me a lot," Gruden said, "because I have a different standard with him than I have for anybody else that's played that position that I've been with. At times, he's been absolutely brilliant. He's been able to dominate inside. I think the more he plays, the more he's going to realize how hard it is to dominate in there.

"That name he wears on the back of his jersey is well-respected in this league, and people are trying to make him miserable on a down-by-down basis. As soon as he understands that completely, I think he'll settle in and not have the peaks and valleys."

Russell, 24, is a rare person who can manage being grumpy, condescending, intriguing and charismatic all in one conversation. When he says he would have gone to dental school if not for the NFL, it's easy to believe.

The Raiders selected Russell second overall in the 1997 draft. After finally cracking the starting lineup 10 games into his rookie season, he had an outstanding second season, with 64 tackles and 10 sacks. Last season, he had 9 1/2 sacks.

That brought more expectations, leading to more disappointments this season. Back from a two-year hiatus came the reputation Russell thought he'd escaped.

"I don't respect anybody's expectations for me," he said, "because everybody still thinks that I'm going to sit around and get fat. Everyone still thinks I take plays off and I'm lazy.

"The fact that I've proved everybody wrong, everybody's pride is really upset right now."

Wrong about what?

"I'm a two-time Pro Bowler, a major cog in a defense that's going to the AFC championship," Russell said. "And most people expected me to go bust after my first year.

"So nowadays, my knock is I'm too smart for the game and still taking plays off like in college. A lot of things that I consider a plus in this world is a minus, which I don't understand."

Russell may never completely shake his reputation, but he could go a long way toward changing the perception if he has a big game Sunday, followed by a monster game on the NFL's grandest stage.

"It's not like I came out talking a bunch of mess about how good I am," Russell said. "I never thought I'd be playing pro ball, anyway. So you want to tell me I [stink], great, I [stink]."

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