As news that JaMarcus Russell would have a tryout with the Chicago Bears on Friday made its way around the NFL this week, one question needed an answer:
If JaMarcus Russell — a total flameout and arguably the worst first overall pick in NFL history — can get a tryout with an NFL team in 2013, why can’t Tim Tebow?
Yes, all roads — even JaMarcus Russell’s redemptive one — lead back to Tebow. Unceremoniously, the Tebow Train was stopped in its tracks on April 29 and hasn’t started back up since. The former Broncos and Jets quarterback, who once won seven of eight games and a playoff game for Denver in 2011, hasn’t been worked out by an NFL team since he was released, and from the looks of it now, may very well not be on an NFL roster come Week 1 of the 2013 season.
So why would a team bother taking a look at Russell, the former Raiders quarterback who hasn’t taken an NFL snap since 2009, while Tebow can’t get a sniff?
“The answer’s easy,” one league source said Thursday afternoon. “Russell has two things you can’t teach that teams actually want — an incredible arm and great NFL size. Tim Tebow has neither.”
Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout for three teams, added, “There is some belief around scouting circles that you can maximize a person’s character — his attitude and work ethic, all that — with the right situation around him. And when you look at Russell from a physical talent perspective, there was never a question about JaMarcus Russell. He can throw the football. With Tim, unfortunately, you’re talking about a different kind of arm.”
Talent evaluators make careers on finding the diamonds in the rough. You will hear legends of current Cleveland Browns general manager Mike Lombardi spotting Jerry Rice on a black-and-white TV while serving as a scout for the San Francisco 49ers in the early 1980s, while Gil Brandt still is often referred to as the man responsible for the Cowboys signing Drew Pearson as an undrafted rookie free agent rookie out of Tulsa in 1973.
With Russell, there still are unanswered questions as to what he can bring to the table. There still are reputations to be made — whether it’s Bears GM Phil Emery’s or coach Marc Trestman’s — if he can make it all the way back and secure a spot on the Bears roster this season.
“Listen,” said the league source who asked to go unnamed for this article, “We’ve seen all we need to see from Tim Tebow. He is what he is. There’s nothing he’s going to do in a tryout that we haven’t seen already. There’s enough tape on him to determine whether or not he can be an NFL quarterback.”
Hatman, the longtime scout, added, “With JaMarcus, you may be willing to take a gamble because of the untapped potential. I would not be inclined to take that chance, but you don’t forget the sight of a guy throwing a ball 50 yards from his knees.”
Russell has battled issues with his weight, his desire to work and an overall interest in the game. But at age 27, he’s now down to just 265 pounds. the same weight he was when he was drafted first overall by Oakland in the 2007 NFL draft, and displaying the arm strength and mobility that so captivated NFL scouts six years ago.
Brian Martin, founder of the TEST Football Academy, has been working with Russell since February. The quarterback weighed 315 pounds when he first arrived at Martin’s facility, but in the four months since, has shed 50 pounds and displayed a work ethic that had even Martin’s staff surprised.
“He’s come full circle,” said Martin. “He still needs to prove things in a team setting, but he’s come a very long way in a very short amount of time. JaMarcus came in six days a week for three straight months and was never a minute late to a single workout. He’s eating right, too. He’s regimented now. He’s a changed man.”
Oh, and that arm? It’s as good as it has ever been.
“We’ve worked with over a dozen NFL quarterbacks, and the strongest arm I’ve ever seen is Joe Flacco’s,” said Martin. “JaMarcus’s arm right now is as strong and as accurate as Joe’s.”
No one’s ever compared Tim Tebow’s arm to Joe Flacco’s.
Ted Sundquist, general manager for the Broncos from 2002-2008, said, “My personal guess on the Russell situation is the all the hype that led to his drafting to start with — the early struggles within a dysfunctional and struggling organization with little support system, the personal self-destruction and then the eventual fall off of the NFL map — has people intrigued to see if they’ve got a shot a ‘stealing’ one, here. Russell has been out of the public eye long enough that even a personal workout peek wouldn’t cause too much of a stir. Not much is expected one way or the other.”
“Tebow, on the other hand, is still fresh in everyone’s mind,” added Sundquist. “His mere presence at a facility would dominate the news in whatever NFL city took a chance in working him out, too.”
Russell’s current NFL story is one of redemption, hope and second chances. It’s the American Dream. This country loves stories like that.
Tebow’s current NFL story, however, just appears to be over.
The next chapters for both are sure to be very interesting.