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Raiders' Russell gets up to speed after early jitters

"It's better and better," Oakland's top pick said of his improved play a week after minicamp.

ALAMEDA, Calif. - JaMarcus Russell concedes that his first minicamp with the Oakland Raiders was a bit overwhelming.

Now having had a little more than a week at home to study the playbook and his performance at practice, the top pick in last month's draft feels more comfortable as an NFL quarterback.

The play calls come easier and the dropped snaps have disappeared as Russell tries to prove he's ready to be a starter in the NFL.

"It's better and better," Russell said yesterday. "You come out, you focus on things, you've got a task at hand before you, and pretty much you get a chance to go over it, get a heads-up on it, instead of coming out here and not knowing what's going on. It's pretty good fun."

Russell spent his time away studying the playbook, talking to coaches and looking at the film of his first practices.

Coach Lane Kiffin said the difference this week in Russell is obvious. Russell had more presence in the huddle, more confidence calling plays at the line and appeared more relaxed, Kiffin said.

"He appears to be a lot more comfortable this time around, having some time off to digest the playbook and watch the film of what happened last camp so he can get better and stuff," Kiffin said. "We're pleased with him."

Russell is competing with Andrew Walter and Josh McCown for the starting role on the Raiders. Walter struggled in his first season, going 2-6 as a starter and committing 22 turnovers while throwing just three touchdown passes.

McCown, acquired last month from Detroit, did not throw a single pass last season with the Lions, but has the most experience of the three. He made 22 career starts in Arizona before joining Detroit last season.

Kiffin said Russell is getting the same treatment in practice as the more experienced quarterbacks, to see how much of the offense he can handle if he does get in games early in the season.

Russell already has one advantage over the other quarterbacks.

"Arm strength," Kiffin said. "It's no secret that he throws the ball differently than the other guys out here and he throws the ball differently than most people in the world. That's the obvious thing."

At one point early in the practice, Russell stopped taking part in drills and was tended to by trainer Rod Martin. Russell said it was no big deal, he just got a little winded.

"I was just trying to catch my breath, make sure everything was all right," he said. "Was working hard down there. There comes a time when you try to do too much, instead of just relaxing, and I was just trying to make sure I did the drills right."

Most of the team was at the voluntary workout, with the two most prominent absences being defensive linemen Derrick Burgess and Warren Sapp. Newly acquired wide receiver Mike Williams attended but didn't take part in the workouts while he recovers from a hamstring injury he suffered at minicamp earlier this month.