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Can Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman learn from JaMarcus Russell's mistakes?

There are lessons to be learned in the graveyard. There are clues to be found in the wreckage.

Even now that the career of JaMarcus Russell has been pronounced dead, there are still things to find out from the autopsy.

Hello, Josh Freeman.

Are you listening?

Most of the time, we expect the young quarterbacks of the NFL to learn from success stories. Take notes from the masters. Study the stars. That sort of thing. How did Peyton Manning attack that defense? What was Tom Brady thinking on third and 3? What drills did Drew Brees use to get his accuracy? And so on.

Sometimes, however, a quarterback can find direction from a lost career. Sometimes, he can learn from those who never could. It's like this: If you're going to start a zeppelin business, you want to know as much as you can about why the Hindenburg crashed. Right? (By a strange coincidence, Russell and the Hindenburg wore the same jersey size.)

Call it learning from someone else's mistakes. For instance, a young quarterback shouldn't go clubbing with Ben Roethlisberger, and he doesn't visit the pet store with Michael Vick, and he doesn't learn diplomacy from Jay Cutler, and he shouldn't discuss retirement plans with Brett Favre.

Also, he should avoid the footsteps of Russell at all costs.

Granted, the last thing the Bucs need is for Freeman to emulate Russell. Still, Freeman needs to know all the many ways Russell went wrong. Otherwise, the risk is that Freeman will spend too much time snoring in the middle of team meetings.

After all, there are some first-glance similarities between Russell and Freeman. Both are big men, both have big arms, and both were drafted by franchises that have not made a lot of noise since Super Bowl XXXVII, which was a lot of Roman numerals ago.

Last year, Russell won two of his nine starts. He completed only 48.8 percent of his passes. He threw 11 interceptions in 246 attempts, which are too many. His rating was only 50.0, which was 32nd in the NFL.

Last year, Freeman won three of his nine starts. He completed only 54.5 percent of his passes. He threw 18 interceptions in 290 attempts, which are too many. His rating was 59.8, which was 30th in the NFL.

In other words, the numbers were fairly close. The difference is that Russell was in his third season and, after it, the Raiders had seen enough of him. After Freeman's first, the Bucs can't wait to see more of him.

So what are the lessons?

For Freeman, the first lesson is to keep working. Russell never did. It was as if every payday made him lazier, and when you consider he walked away with $39 million for seven career victories, that's a lot of sloth. Ex-teammates say Russell fell asleep in meetings. He skipped a team meeting once to go to Las Vegas. His work ethic was terrible.

The good thing is that Freeman already has established himself as a worker at One Buc. When teammates say that Freeman is a hungry player, they aren't talking about the buffet at the casino. That alone gives him a thousand percent better chance of success than Russell. For a quarterback, success is hard enough when you work at it. It's impossible when you don't.

Hang around Freeman for a little while, and you'll come away impressed. He seems to get it. More than that, he seems to want it. Yes, he has work to do, but there are worse foundations for a quarterback.

"If you ask coaches, they'll tell you that one of the biggest intangibles a quarterback can have is work ethic," Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "When guys talk about the 'it' factor, part of 'it' is the work ethic. Especially now, when defenses have become so complicated.

"Josh's work ethic is very good. We couldn't ask for more."

Also, there is this: On the field, Freeman seems to have more of an idea of where the end zone is. Although the two had the same number of starts last year, Freeman had a clear edge in touchdown passes (10-3) and yardage (1,855 yards to 1,287). The ball comes out quicker. His feet are better.

Of course, there are lessons for the Bucs as an organization, too. In hindsight, the Raiders were every bit as bad for Russell as he was for them.

For instance, the rest of the Raiders weren't very good, either. There was a lack of leadership in the locker room. Russell's first coach, Lane Kiffin, didn't want Russell, and after Kiffin left, the play-callers kept changing. Even drafting two wide receivers last year didn't help enough.

This year, it is the Bucs who have drafted two rookie receivers to help out Freeman. Still, the lessons are obvious. The Bucs could be better around Freeman, especially in the run game and on defense. They, too, could use a few more mentors in their locker room. They could use some continuity on their coaching staff. As a franchise, the Bucs need a better long-term plan than the Raiders.

Bottom line, this is still a 3-13 football team with a quarterback who has nine starts to his career. There is a lot of learning to do.

Sometimes, that means studying the failures, too.

Besides, what's the harm of watching a little film on Russell? If nothing else, it should be good for a couple of laughs.

Can Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman learn from JaMarcus Russell's mistakes? 05/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:47am]
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