* (Editor's Note: Dan Turner, a journalist from England, has come across the pond for the second straight training camp, to get a closer look at America's Team. Throughout camp, Dan (*@dtsturner) will provide some insight on several rookies, continuing today with fifth-round pick Ryan Russell.)
Ryan Russell has steadily improved through training camp so far. It wasn't that he played badly initially, just that he didn't particularly stand out. As camp has gone on, he's started to gain confidence and make plays.
One of Russell's biggest learning curves has been the scheme change, as he played in a 3-4 defense at Purdue. He admits that it's challenging, but that he's learning quickly.
"A little bit, but when I first started playing football, it was as a 4-3 defensive end, so I'm a little more familiar with that," Russell said. "Right now, I'm playing a little inside as well, so that's quite new for me, but Coach (Rod) Marinelli keeps everything pretty clear and clean-cut. We're all on the same page so we can go fast."
His biggest issue as a player is one that is made obvious by Rod Marinelli almost every day, when he yells at Russell to "get off the ball". The frustrating thing is that he has flashed a few really nice speed rushes to beat blockers off the snap, but he lacks any sort of consistency in this area. Russell doesn't mind the criticism, and he even agrees with Marinelli.
"It's just something you can't ever let slack," Russell said. "No matter how strong you get, no matter how much you know about what to do, if you don't get off the ball, you've already put yourself at a huge disadvantage. Moving around as much as I am, I'm thinking about lots of different things, so he definitely reminds me, first and foremost, get off the ball."
What he brings is versatility, and physical attributes such as strength, power, and size. Russell is playing all across the defensive line, at right and left defensive end, as well as under-tackle. His strength and power means that he can anchor the edge on running downs, as well as generate some movement on passing downs.
Russell isn't guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster, even with his status as a fifth round pick. However, with Greg Hardy suspended for the first four games, he has a strong chance. After a good preseason opener against the Chargers, he just needs to continue to show himself to be a potentially reliable defensive lineman at any spot they wish to play him.
Here is the rest of the interview with Ryan Russell:
On adapting to playing three different positions (right and left defensive end, and under-tackle):
"It's challenging, but that's the standard that we have. We commit to excellence no matter what you're doing. There's a certain level that you have to play at. It's challenging, but Coach Marinelli keeps pushing me and coaching me. My position group are helping me, and I'm up to the challenge."
On his initiation song:
"I did 'Ordinary People' by John Legend. I was so nervous that my voice cracked. It was pretty bad, but everyone was supportive afterwards and I got it out the way."
On his biggest 'wow' moment so far:
"It's literally a 'wow' moment every day. Just coming out here and seeing guys like Greg Hardy and (Jeremy) Mincey who I've looked up to as pass rushers, and just seeing Tony Romo and Dez and Jason Witten, and seeing all their work ethic, and just being able to put the star on and put this uniform on, and go out and live my dream. Every moment is a 'wow' moment."
On how he's enjoying it in Oxnard:
"Definitely. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
On his excitement level for playing games, now that preseason is here:
"Yeah, it will be nice to hit somebody else, and show that your hard work is finally paying off, and be on the biggest stage in the world. It's what I've been dreaming of since I was a little kid in my back yard."