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Bucs, DL Russell bank on history not being repeated

The free-agent signee says he has learned from his mistakes.

Published April 8, 2004

TAMPA - Darrell Russell's favorite subject is history, which he earned a degree in at Southern Cal after just 31/2 years.

"Different empires come out and start off so invincible, or they get to that high peak, and it's like, how would they fall?" Russell said. "And one way or another, they always would. That's very interesting to me. Because a lot of times, huge empires fall over the simplest things."

Now it's Russell's troubled history the Bucs hope the free-agent defensive tackle will learn from.

Once seemingly invincible, Russell nearly tumbled out of the NFL. In Tampa Bay, he has perhaps one final chance to resurrect a career in which he went from a first-round pick with the Raiders and a Pro Bowl player to a two-time offender of the NFL's substance abuse policy who was suspended for 18 months and faced felony sexual abuse charges that were later dropped.

Russell met with reporters Wednesday after his second day of workouts at One Buc Place. And while stopping short of apologizing for his past behavior, he insisted he learned from it.

"When everything happened to me, it was unfortunate," Russell said. "Guilty by association or whatever you want to call it. To put yourself in situations and not looking at the big picture, the fact that you are a professional athlete, the fact that there are a lot of things at stake and the fact that it's no longer a game, it's a business. Instead of turning around and being bitter at the league, you learn from your mistakes. You open your eyes and see how things are really done.

"I made poor mistakes just by being around people who made poor mistakes. Either way, I was in that situation, so no matter how you look at it, I made the mistakes."

The Bucs, who signed Russell to a one-year contract for the league minimum of $535,000, seem willing to forgive if not forget.

Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who coached Russell during his sophomore year at Southern Cal in '95, was dispatched to California to meet with Russell on the first day of the free-agent signing period.

"I wanted to recruit him, for one," Marinelli said. "I wanted to make sure we could get him here. It's like with any free agent you talk to, you kind of explain what you are, what we do and how we do it.

"I always remember the one thing was how much he really liked football. When you sit down with somebody, words are cheap. I know what he's about. I know the inner side of this guy. So I think now let's see if the passion is there with all those things."

Russell, 27, is projected to play at nose tackle alongside Anthony McFarland, who will move to the under tackle position manned for nine seasons by Warren Sapp. Russell, 6 feet 5 and 325 pounds, would give the Bucs a solid run stopper who is quick enough to pressure the quarterback.

"You might have a chance to get a really big man inside," Marinelli said. "And if they start sliding and those other things to the end, he can really make them pay because he's a massive push guy."

Making the biggest push for Russell was coach Jon Gruden, who failed in an attempt to sign him after he was reinstated by the league last season.

"Yeah, you go with your gut," Gruden said. "The guy came in here, we signed him to a minimum contract, we gave him another opportunity to be a pro football player, to get it right, and we hope we can surround him with a launching pad he can take off on."

Now the Bucs will see if Russell has learned his lessons well.

"I've definitely gotten a lot smarter and lot wiser with everything that I've been through," Russell said. "In a lot of aspects, I'm kind of happy that things happened to me because I probably wouldn't have learned the things I've learned if they weren't as extreme as they were."

[Last modified April 8, 2004, 01:35:43]

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