We've seen his tears of regret and grief. They engendered some compassion, or maybe just pity, but that's of little use to JaMarcus Russell right now.
We've been told he has shed at least 34 pounds from a starting point of 315. We've seen him running on a beach, lifting weights, trying to rediscover the body of a quarterback.
We've seen the magnificent arm at work again. In its short film, "JaMarcus Russell, Waking Up," ESPN pulled out footage of the former No. 1 pick, in LSU gear, on his knees hurling a football 70 yards. The scene didn't mean much, though. Russell had that deep pass in his quiver even as he challenged Ryan Leaf's legacy. The arm didn't make him an NFL quarterback.
What we need to see most of all is that Russell can delay gratification, that he will keep working to reconstruct his physique and career, even if the coming months give him little hope.
He has spent the last 2 1/2 months training in San Diego at the behest of Jeff Garcia, briefly his teammate in Oakland and now a quarterback coach/rehabilitator. Both of them clearly want him to be ready for the 2013 season, fit and prepared to back up an NFL starter. But Russell needs to shed another 20 pounds of flesh and a tonnage of distrust.
He won't represent the same risk as he did in 2007, when the Raiders had to produce a guaranteed $31.5 million to sign him. At best, he would get an unguaranteed minimum offer to show up in a training camp and compete for a roster spot. But his weight problems, his 2010 codeine arrest and his three years out of the game will all work as dissuasion. The question still remains whether he loves the sport in the unconditional, blinkered way that all successful quarterbacks must. Does he love it enough to wait for it to love him back again?
If it happens at all, his return will be half-miracle, half-spectacle. The spectacle part will require a secure, patient coach who truly believes Russell is worth the trouble. Garcia has cited the offenses of the Cardinals and Bears as the best possible fits for Russell, and both teams have first-year head coaches.
So what happens if everyone bypasses him this spring? Would he be willing to go to the CFL? Or wait until next year? He is only 27, and he has said he saved a lot of his millions. He can afford to be patient.
There would be no better evidence that Russell deserved a second chance, and he'd have no better mentor in perseverance than Garcia. Undrafted out of San Jose State, Garcia had to wait five years for his first chance in the NFL. He played in Canada until Bill Walsh lobbied the 49ers to consider him as a backup. He lasted 12 years in the NFL and was named to four Pro Bowls.
Leaf found three welcoming teams, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Seattle, after San Diego gave up on him, its 1998 No. 2 pick. None of them worked out for him, but he did get the opportunities, despite playing worse than Russell and alienating teammates with his petulance and surliness. Russell wasn't exactly Mr. Popular either. His Oakland teammates found him exasperating because he didn't put in the necessary work and because they knew that owner Al Davis insisted on maintaining him as the starter despite performances that argued for a benching.
After his last game as a Raider, his teammates refused to utter even the most perfunctory support for him. "Ummmm … no comment,'' receiver Chaz Schilens said in discreet insurrection, when asked to assess the quarterback that day. But Russell had a decidedly sweet side. He had housed a bunch of evacuees in his Baton Rouge apartment after Hurricane Katrina. The other Raiders, for all their professional disrespect, did not bother to dislike him personally.
In the months before he was drafted, Russell worked with Tom Martinez, the College of San Mateo coach who became Tom Brady's mentor. Martinez said that spring that he worried that Russell would end up in the wrong organization. He did not cite any team as an example of the wrong kind, even though the Raiders held the No. 1 pick and had just hired their fifth head coach in seven years -- 32-year-old Lane Kiffin, who balked at choosing Russell with the pick.
The Raiders would have been wise to bring on Martinez as an assistant. Russell and Kiffin briefly interviewed him but didn't follow up. Before the draft, Martinez had worked on rehabbing Russell's dropback, which was not ready for prime time. His bad habits returned when Kiffin finally used him at the end of his rookie season. Russell could not take quick, deep backward strides and keep his balance. His awkwardness made spectators appreciate this overlooked skill in other quarterbacks. And this was before he moved up to the heavyweight division.
Garcia should be able to help in that area. Scrambling seemed to come naturally to him, but in truth, he had to cultivate every aspect of his game.
Garcia might have helped Russell in 2009, when the Raiders signed him as a backup and a mentor to their befuddled youngster. But it became clear pretty quickly that Garcia deserved the starting job over the wayward prodigy, and that he would not pretend otherwise. So to shield Russell from such an obvious threat, the Raiders dumped Garcia.
Four years later, the two reunited because Garcia heard that Russell wanted to make a comeback and contacted him, inviting him to his new football training site. The fact that Garcia had to reach out, not the other way around, should give any prospective Russell employer pause. So should the fact that when he reviewed the many low moments of his career during the ESPN film, he said he asked himself: "Am I really that bad, that they're booing?"