ALAMEDA, Calif. - JaMarcus Russell just laughed when he heard reports that his weight had ballooned to more than 300 pounds in the offseason.
Coach Lane Kiffin began calling him "Big Boy" and his friends teased him a bit, but Russell just went on with his offseason workouts as he prepares for his first full season as a quarterback in the NFL.
"It was funny to me," Russell said yesterday. "But most of my family, like my grandmother, she kind of took it hard. But at the same time I think it's all fun and jokes, just a reason to get myself better and just keep myself in shape."
Russell said he weighed in at 269 pounds and looked thinner than he did a year ago as the Raiders began their offseason workouts and wanted to drop 5 or 6 more pounds before the season begins.
The 6-6, strong-armed passer never will be svelte, but the Raiders are happy with the offseason work from their franchise player. Russell returned to the Raiders' facility for workouts, classroom work and individual drills on March 10.
He made it back to the practice field with his teammates this week for organized team activities.
"I think it shows his commitment to the team and to the players. They see that," Kiffin said. "They notice his body being different, he's got great energy about himself, and he looks really good. He's moving around great and making plays on the run. I know it just creates a good feeling around the locker room as well."
The Raiders have become Russell's team after a difficult rookie season. He played catch-up after missing all of training camp before signing his $61 million contract 3 days after the season began.
He didn't step on the field until December, playing as a reserve in three games before starting the season finale against San Diego.
He completed 23 of 31 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers after turning the ball over four times the previous week against Jacksonville.
"I'm happy those guys got me out there early so I could get a chance to get a feel and see what it's like," Russell said. "Now I kind of got an idea what it's going to be like and now I just get ready and try to prepare for it."
Kiffin said the difference in Russell's knowledge and comfort level is "night and day" from last season.
Russell wasn't asked to throw deep much in yesterday's practice and was off-target with some of his shorter throws, but Kiffin has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
"His confidence level is so much different," Kiffin said. "He knows his team, he knows his teammates, he has a different presence about him. Instead of being in the huddle and just trying to get the play call out and getting to the line of scrimmage, he's giving them reminders in there. He's way more comfortable than he was before."
Russell has some new playmakers to work with this season, including first-round pick Darren McFadden, a running back from Arkansas. Oakland also signed a pair of veteran receivers in former Pro Bowl player Javon Walker and Drew Carter.
Walker began his career in Green Bay with Brett Favre and said that was good preparation for trying to catch Russell's hard passes.
"I've been fortunate enough in my career to play with a quarterback who had a strong arm, and that's something I developed into, catching a fastball," Walker said. "He's one of those guys that has that ball. The more and more we work together, the better that we're going to be."
The rookies aren't allowed to join the team until next week.
Most of the other veterans were on hand, with a few notable exceptions. Defensive end Derrick Burgess stayed home as usual for the voluntary workout and running back LaMont Jordan also did not attend, although he is expected to be released next month. Offensive lineman Robert Gallery was excused because he got married. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee), receiver Ronald Curry (foot), safeties Stuart Schweigert (leg) and Jarrod Cooper (knee), and center Jake Grove (knee) were among the veterans on hand rehabbing instead of practicing. *