NAPA, Calif. -- JaMarcus Russell's first two years in the NFL have produced more questions than victories for the Raiders.
As Russell prepares for his third season, coach Tom Cable said there's only one answer that matters.
"It's getting to a point where he can help us win, and I mean that," Cable said. "That's really the bottom line here."
Nothing else matters, Cable said. People can question Russell's weight, his work ethic, his leadership and whatever else all they want. The Raiders selected Russell No. 1 in the 2007 NFL draft because they felt as if he is talented enough to lead the Raiders from the depths of six straight losing seasons.
"You can ask those (questions) to death," Cable said, "and it really comes down to, do you feel you can go out and lead your team to win?"
The Raiders are 5-11 with Russell as their starting quarterback the past two seasons -- he missed one game last season because of a knee injury.
The third year typically is about the time an NFL quarterback settles in and makes huge strides. The immediate success enjoyed by Atlanta Falcons rookie Matt Ryan last season is the exception.
The Raiders are hopeful that Russell is on the verge of a breakout season, especially since they added wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy to an offense that already features three quality running backs.
"It takes time, especially at the quarterback position ...," Raiders middle linebacker Kirk Morrison said. "It takes a couple years. ... For JaMarcus going into his third year, the game is going to slow down for him a lot, and he's going to have a successful year."
Russell completed only 53.8 percent of his passes, was sacked 31 times and fumbled 12 times last season. He balanced that with 13 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions and a strong showing his final two games.
Cable has made expediting Russell's development a primary objective this season.
He made the well-regarded Paul Hackett the quarterbacks coach, signed veteran Jeff Garcia as the backup and challenged Russell to work harder than ever.
If Russell is feeling any added pressure, there aren't any overt signs, and he isn't letting on in the least.
"I always say, 'Be better than they expect you to be, or be greater than they expect you to be,0 " Russell said after a recent practice. "Anything that they expect of you, be more than that, and then they can't ask for anything else."
Cable says 16 wins this season would be nice. Naturally, that's unrealistic, but the point is clear.
Adding to Russell's burden is the presence of Garcia, the so-called 800-pound elephant in the locker room.
"I don't believe I'm a backup quarterback by any means," Garcia said upon arriving to training camp in Napa.
Garcia makes it clear that he isn't here to undermine Russell's progress, just to raise the bar, so to speak, and give Cable two appealing options when it comes time to select a quarterback for the regular-season opener Sept. 14.
"I'm not the guy who comes in with all the accolades coming out of college and the high draft pick (status)," Garcia said, "but I come in with a lot of positive experience, I come in with success at winning football games and going to playoffs and leading different organizations to that sort of level. I don't see this as being any different."
"And I don't think that any player should focus on who the starter is at one position, but how can they be the best that they can be in order to help this team rise to another level?"
Russell turns 24 a week from Sunday. Still, he is one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in the league.
That, along with the incessant pressure and lofty expectations placed upon Russell, tends to get overlooked, Raiders left offensive tackle Mario Henderson said.
"It's hard for anyone to imagine the pressure that he has to go through of being the No. 1 pick," said Henderson, who entered the NFL in the same draft class as Russell. "I can be sitting at home watching TV and hear that, 'JaMarcus hasn't done this, he hasn't done that.' People don't know that he has made such great strides since coming into the league, it's amazing."
Henderson said Russell is more of a vocal leader and that he doesn't let anything faze him.
"He could have been one of those guys who said, 'Everyone's against me,' " Henderson said. "He could have been one of the guys who didn't work hard. Yet, he took all the negativity and what people are saying and made it a positive. ...
"He goes out there and gets better because he knows that everyone on this team respects him, believes in him and knows he is working hard."
Russell just takes it all in stride.
"There's going to be a lot going on this year," Russell said. "You have a lot of doubters who kind of count the Raiders out. It's the beginning of a new year."