Latino veteran QB settles in as Raider

Commentary: Raiders mentor Garcia yearns to play
By Paul Gutierrez, pgutierrez@sacbee.com, May. 10, 2009

ALAMEDA – This is going to be interesting. On paper, and in theory, it makes all the sense in the world.

Sure, Jeff Garcia is ready to enter the next phase of his career. Of course he's ready to become a backup quarterback and (yikes) wear that phrase that signals the end is near, "mentor" for JaMarcus Russell. And yes, Garcia and the Raiders are saying all the right things.

Thing is, that same dogged determination, that same fierce work ethic that propelled him to a 10-year (and counting) NFL career after being undrafted out of San Jose State and spending five seasons in the wilderness of the Canadian Football League might not let the transformation go so smoothly.

This is a proud four-time Pro Bowl player who has started all but eight of the 124 NFL games in which he has appeared. Three of those came 10 years ago with the 49ers, when he was getting his legs under him in the wake of Steve Young's career-ending concussion.

Garcia has had to work twice as hard to enjoy half the success, and he's ready to give that up now, to serve as a caddie?

"It's not an easy role to accept because of the competitive nature that is within me," Garcia said. "I struggled with it when I was in Philadelphia. … I had a hard time just sitting on the sideline watching; I wanted to be part of the game.

"That didn't mean I was a negative distraction for the team. I still did my work. I still held my head up high. I still tried to be whatever I needed to be for Donovan (McNabb), which is what I'll be here for JaMarcus. But deep inside, we're all competitors, and we all play this game to be on the field, not to be on the sidelines."

So if he knew the deal with the Eagles in 2006 with a five-time Pro Bowl player and perennial MVP candidate in McNabb at the helm and still struggled with his lot, what's Garcia going to do if and when the unproven commodity that is Russell falters in his make-or-break season and Raider Nation starts calling for his head?

Not to start a QB Controversy in minicamp – that wouldn't be fair – but while Garcia takes the P.C. route, in the back of his mind, he must be thinking he's the better man for the job.

Uh oh.

On one hand, he doesn't really sound like a 39-year-old gunslinger ready to ride off into the sunset. Paging Brett Favre.

On the other, Garcia's fire and competitive spirit are exactly what the laid-back Russell needs to kick-start him in this pivotal campaign.

Still, the line between competing to push the incumbent and becoming a distraction is a fine one.

Not that Russell, who seems more comfortable hanging with defensive linemen, has noticed. Or is letting on.

So I asked Russell what a guy like Garcia – with such an inspirational, impressive résumé – brought to him.

"He brings a lot," Russell said with a Cheshire cat grin. "As far as his personality, he's a good people person. He's got good people skills on and off the field. I just sit and watch and admire him. … "

Nothing is ever as it seems. So while on the surface, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful relationship between mentor and mentee, you might see a storm brewing beneath the surface. Stay tuned.

Garcia must fully embrace his role. Russell must accept his tutoring. Otherwise, this will be more than interesting. More like ugly.

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