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PRO FOOTBALL / SAM FARMER

Raiders' Jeff Garcia is a backup with a plan

The 39-year-old quarterback is No. 2 on the depth chart and working on a 'blue-light special' one-year deal, but that doesn't mean he's conceding anything to starter JaMarcus Russell.

July 05, 2009|SAM FARMER

As a new quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, Jeff Garcia will be playing under a black flag now.

And he won't be waving a white one.

So don't expect the 39-year-old Garcia, a scrapper throughout his career, to back off one bit, even though he's second on the depth chart behind JaMarcus Russell, selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft.

Nor is Garcia going to gingerly tiptoe around the question of which quarterback he thinks should be starting when the season rolls around.

"Not knocking JaMarcus or anybody else on the team, but I just have a belief in my own abilities; those things have me feeling that I am the best quarterback on the team," Garcia said in a phone interview from his home in San Diego. "That's just how I approach the game. That's how I approach my situation."

That's not to say Garcia is ready to grouse about his role, even though he said the Raiders got him on a "blue-light special," signing him in April to a one-year, no-frills contract. He's happy to be playing within an hour's drive of his family in Gilroy, and hopes to finish his NFL career across the bay from where he began it.

But he doesn't question the notion that he's got something valuable to offer a franchise that hasn't won more than five games in a season since 2002 and a young quarterback who has yet to prove he has the work habits to match his enormous contract.

"I feel like I can help in how I approach the game, how I approach every single day," Garcia said.

"I have a certain work ethic that is a part of me. When I step on the field, there is no 50%. It's 100% all the time. It's sprinting from drill to drill. It's doing everything full speed. It's, when I throw an incomplete pass, showing that I care that I threw an incomplete pass. Not just, 'Oh, shucks, I just didn't throw the ball as well.' I'm very critical of myself. Because I'm critical of myself . . . that's where I feel I help myself."

Garcia definitely has had his ups and downs over the past decade, amassing a 58-58 won-lost record with five teams. After five seasons with the 49ers, he spent one forgettable season each with Cleveland and Detroit, filled in brilliantly for injured Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia, and spent the last two years with Tampa Bay. At his best, he's a galvanizer who can make a good team even better.

"Even though the last five years I've played for four different teams, I try not to look at myself as one of those guys who's just looking for an opportunity to be a part of a team," he said. "I feel like I'm still a guy who can be a difference maker.

"Now, how the management or people above us look at me? I've had to fight that battle throughout my career: I'm not big enough, I'm not strong enough, I don't fit the stereotype that they're looking for, whatever it may be.

"But when I come into a situation, I feel like I inspire people."

That's why as the season nears, Russell's biggest challenge might not be the competition that he can see in front of him, but the player who will be there every time he turns around.

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Mountain climbing

Legendary mountaineer Ed Viesturs will lead NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Seattle Seahawks Coach Jim Mora and others this week on a charity climb of Mount Rainier, the 14,411-foot peak south of Seattle. The excursion will benefit the United Way of King County, Wash.

Mora is close friends with Viesturs -- the first American to summit all 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters -- and has had the climber speak to his players and coaches on various occasions.

The two had a memorable exchange on a snowy night outside Lambeau Field in January 2008, after the Packers beat the Seahawks, 42-20, in a divisional playoff game.

"We're standing out there waiting to get on the bus, and Ed turns to me and says, 'I know how you feel,' " Mora said. "I'm thinking, 'How could he know how I feel? We just put six months into this thing, we got so close, and we couldn't close the deal.' "

Then, Viesturs explained how he could empathize. On his first attempt to climb Mount Everest, he came within 300 feet of the summit before he had to turn back because of foul weather.

"He said, 'We spent months and months preparing for this thing, spent six weeks on the mountain. To turn around was just devastating,' " Mora recalled. "I said, 'Well, I guess you do know how I feel.' "

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Corner crack

San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie had only two interceptions last season after picking off a franchise-record 10 in 2007. He said a big part of his problem in 2008 stemmed from his suffering a hip fracture in the opener, an injury he revealed only after the season. He said he couldn't turn and break on the ball the way he's accustomed to doing, and now would handle such an injury much differently.

"After we did the MRIs and I got my opinions and all that stuff, I would have shut it down until I felt I was healthy enough to do what I wanted to do," he said.

Did he contemplate calling it a season after getting hurt?

"I did a couple times," he said. "Just sitting out the rest of the season or sitting out until I was capable to play at 100%."

The problem, he said, was a common one: "Pride took over."

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Purple people

Which purple jersey would be a better seller, Brett Favre with the Vikings or Ron Artest with the Lakers? Reebok is bracing for that possibility. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the company is believed to have already created a screen so that No. 4 Minnesota jerseys could be mass-produced the instant Favre were to sign.

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Tweet of the week

(@BobGlauber) "To all fans/scribes in Minny waiting on Favre, we feel your angst . . . as do the fans/scribes who have been through this a time or 2 in GB."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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