FOR RUSSELL, THIS STOP IN SAN DIEGO COULD BE LAST ONE.
For now, there's no reason for him to check the real estate section of another out-of-town newspaper, no need to wipe dust off the Samsonites.
It appears San Diego Chargers running back Leonard Russell might stay put at the end of this season. That would mark the first time since 1993 that he has spent consecutive years with the same employer.
``I feel pretty settled here. I like the coaching staff and the players and this scheme is good for me, they like to pound the ball a little bit, which is what I like to do,'' said the Long Beach resident, who signed with the Chargers in April after a one-year, turmoil-filled season with the St. Louis Rams. Before that, he played for the Denver Broncos, who signed him after he left the New England Patriots in a preseason contract dispute.
Russell, the Patriots' No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft, will play against his former employer today in San Diego.
``The (Chargers) work pretty good around here. They're trying to get to the playoffs, which is something I haven't done in my career,'' said Russell, San Diego's leading rusher. ``That's one of the top things on my list to get done before I get out of the game. And I have a pretty good chance to get it done this year.''
Russell has gained 621 yards and scored six touchdowns on 188 carries (3.3 yards a carry) so far this season. Last week against Kansas City, he gained a season-high 88 yards on 32 carries and scored two touchdowns, marking the second time this season and the fourth time in his career he has scored twice in a game.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pounder has added stability to a team that entered the season suspect at running back. Heralded back Natrone Means went to Jacksonville and Rodney Culver was killed in an airplane crash. Russell entered the season third on the depth chart.
``He's a big back we like. We like to run at you the best we can,'' said Chargers head coach Bobby Ross. ``He can take the punishment, he's an excellent pass protector and a good receiver and he fits what we ask of him. So far, he gets better every week.''
Unlike in Russell's past, there have been no setbacks. No neck problem initially diagnosed as a shoulder problem, like the one in Denver that kept him out the last two games of the season. No dropoff in carries after a teammate ends a holdout, as happened last year in St. Louis. No salary disputes, as with the Patriots - where he walked away from a three-year, $4.2 million offer, supposedly bothered that the team brought in lesser players for more money.
Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard signed Russell in the free agent market last April for $275,000 (the league minimum for a fifth-year player), plus incentives. Reportedly, Means would have been making $2.1 million if he were still with the team.
``I think in every situation there are different reasons of how people fit in,'' said Ross. ``There was a need here. We lost Rodney Culver in the (airplane) accident. Leonard was available. He was willing to come here. We signed him, told him where he stood, and he came in and there have been no problems at all. He's done a good job.''
In 1993 as a Patriot, Russell had his best season as a professional (300 carries, 1,088 yards, seven touchdowns), despite several off-the-field concerns: his daughter was born four months premature; he also was stabbed outside a Boston nightclub.
Asked Wednesday if losing Russell was strictly a matter of finances, Patriots coach Bill Parcells said: ``No, as I recall we made Leonard quite a substantial offer at that time. He didn't take it. It didn't look as if there was any prospect that he was going to take it.
``You've got to move on, that's the way it goes. He's been a couple of places since then. I'm glad it worked out. I liked Leonard. He's a good kid.
``I enjoyed having him, he played good when he was here. But that's the way it goes. That's was the first year of some of this stuff. Retrospectively, I think if you asked him, `Do you wish you would have signed that deal?,' I think probably he would say yes. Now, if he says, `No,' he must be pretty wealthy. Because he's played for a lot less.''
Russell acknowledged he had regrets about how his career ended in New England. ``I do. I enjoyed playing in New England and I enjoyed my teammates and enjoyed my career there,'' he said.
``I thought it was ending pretty good, coming off a 1,000-yard season. I thought the season went well, but unfortunately we couldn't get anything done at the end. It kind of leaves a bitter taste in your mouth because you hate to see things go like that. But I'm glad they're doing all right over there, and they're going pretty well.''
Russell stopped short of saying, in retrospect, he have re-signed with the Patriots.
``It's hard for me to say,'' he said. ``I don't like to look back on things and dwell on them.
``It's probably one of those things. Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn't have. But I'm not disappointed where my career has led me. It's led me to San Diego. Back home, and I'm playing back in California and my family can come see me play. It's just unfortunate things had to go like they did.''
In 1994-95 while playing in Denver, Russell had a team-high 620 yards and finished fifth in the AFC with nine touchdowns. He also missed the last two games of the season with a ruptured disc in his neck.
Last year with the Rams, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry over the first two games, but took a backseat when Jerome Bettis ended his holdout. Russell finished with 66 carries for 203 yards, but gained just 100 yards after the first two games.
Russell reportedly asked to be traded and the Rams refused. Then came reports of showing up late for meetings and missing practices. The Rams released him at the end of the season.
``With the Broncos, I was doing pretty good and leading the team in touchdowns and then I had that ruptured disc,'' he said. ``That cost me three or four months where I couldn't do anything. With the Rams, it was just a bad situation. It wasn't the right place for me or the right situation or the right time. That was a real unpleasant year for me.
``Fortunately I ended up with San Diego, and I'm happy.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1996|
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