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Massive Russell will test Irish

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, January 2, 2007

NEW ORLEANS – JaMarcus Russell’s teammates think he’s every bit the quarterback of Brady Quinn, and not just in size. The Irish are expecting the massive quarterback to be as tough a signal-caller as they’ve faced in the past two years.

“He’s a big guy; he’s hard to get down,” Notre Dame defensive end Victor Abiamiri said of the 260-pound Russell. “If you can’t get him down we have to at least try and disrupt his timing a little bit. From watching film, some guys get there, get around and get some pressure on him, but aren’t quite able to bring him down because of his size. That’s one of his physical attributes that helps him out.”

And when Notre Dame was looking for a scout team quarterback to imitate the 6-foot-6 Russell, Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter thought the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Abiamiri might be the best option to imitate the imposing presence of a mammoth behind center.

“We have to line Victor up at quarterback on the look team to get a replica look at Russell,” Minter joked.

Irish strong safety Tom Zbikowski, a 6-foot, 210-pound boxer, admitted he wasn’t fully sure he could bring down Russell on his own if he blitzed. Notre Dame linebacker Travis Thomas, six inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter than Russell, felt the same way.

“It most important to not let him break your tackles, that’s the biggest thing that we’ve seen in almost every game,” Thomas said. “He’s always breaking a possible sack. They’ll be different blitzes coming at him from different directions.”

Despite Russell’s size, Minter and Irish defensive backs coach Bill Lewis said Notre Dame’s biggest problem in facing Russell is his drop-back passing accuracy.

“I think what’s added to his abilities is the ability of his receiving corps,” Lewis said. “I think they’ve worked extremely well together.”

The Tigers’ main threats catching the ball are receivers Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet. Bowe leads the group with 60 receptions, and Davis and Doucet have 52 and 51, respectively.

Abiamiri said the well-oiled Tigers offense benefits from the young but impressive LSU offensive line. The Tigers have allowed just eight sacks of Russell all season, whereas Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has been sacked 30 times.

“He’s good at being able to stay in the pocket,” Abiamiri said. “He looks to throw first and scramble second. He’s able to look pressure and take heat in the face and still be able to complete passes down field is a good skill that he has. We have to go out there and play our best game against him.”

In practice at the Superdome Saturday, Russell routinely hit receivers 30 yards or more downfield on seem routes, corner posts and fades. When LSU worked with its full offense, the Tigers began with three screens, a short out-rout to the tight end and two end-arounds to 5-foot-5 speedster Trindon Holliday.

“He’s kind of a wild card,” Minter said of the 159-pound Holliday. “You’ve got to find him. And then when you find him, he’s a blur and runs right by you. He’s one of the fastest kids in the South, if not on the team.”

While Holliday will occasionally line up at receiver, Bowe, Davis and Doucet have been the main flankers all season for LSU.

“You look at JaMarcus when it seems he is wrapped up for a sack he throws it off his back foot for 30-something yards and then you got talented receivers,” Zbikowski said. “So when you have that type of combination it’s a challenge.”

Notre Dame practices Saturday afternoon in the Superdome. Check back for regular afternoon updates from New Orleans on practices and news conferences.