Ravens begin quarterback derby

Street Talk Ravens begin quarterback derby

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WESTMINSTER — The Baltimore Ravens’ rare quarterback experiment began Tuesday in the inaugural training camp practice under new coach John Harbaugh as he tries to identify whether the leader of his offense will be Troy Smith, Kyle Boller or rookie Joe Flacco.

As each contender seeks to emerge as the opening-game starter, the tenor is the exact opposite of those old-school, cutthroat duels of the distant past where quarterbacks were barely on speaking terms.

This is a friendly environment at McDaniel College, a proving ground for passers that has become something of a mutual admiration society.

"We don’t really have anything against each other," Flacco said. "All we’re trying to do is win a spot and do the best we can do. It’s just the nature of the position. I don’t really have any hard feelings.

"I don’t know if these guys do, but none of us show it and we’re able to practice and get along and talk to each other about what went on during the play. So, I think it’s a pretty good relationship."

Ultimately, the Ravens’ decision will be determined by touchdowns, audibles, knowledge of the playbook and clutch performance.

A collegial atmosphere is a bonus, not a job requirement.

"The fact that they’re friends and they’re good guys, that’s just being good sports," Harbaugh said. "But make no mistake about it, every one of those three guys wants the job.

"It’s not really a nice-guy contest. We’re all nice guys, but it’s a quarterbacks contest."

That contest began in earnest in Westminster with mixed results.

During red-zone drills where Smith took and fumbled the initial snap, the former Heisman Trophy winner threw three interceptions and went 1 for 5 overall.

One interception sailed into the hands of secondary coach Chuck Pagano, a 47-year-old former college defensive back filling in at cornerback due to a lack of players at a camp populated primarily by rookies.

Overall, Smith struggled and ended the day with a sore leg wrapped up. It’s not believed to be serious.

Meanwhile, Boller completed all four of his throws during the drill. He was conservative, taking what the defense gave him and avoiding turnovers by dumping the football short.

Flacco displayed his powerful arm, albeit sometimes not throwing with enough touch. He went 1 for 3, but rifled a 20-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Carter in traffic.

Harbaugh cautioned that he won’t begin really evaluating until full-team workouts start Friday, but admitted that it’s hard not to take a few mental notes.

"We say it doesn’t start today and you say it’s hard to evaluate, but, of course, you’re standing there and evaluating," Harbaugh said. "You’re watching guys make throws and watching them handle the offense, but you certainly aren’t making any decisions yet."

For Smith, who didn’t throw an interception in 76 throws as a rookie, his elusiveness is a major plus. Especially since dropping down to 213 pounds with a running regimen that has him a dozen pounds below his playing weight from last year.

"They can’t hit what they can’t catch," Smith said.

Smith, who lacks ideal height at 6-foot, has also drawn praise for his swagger in the huddle.

Boller has the edge of experience with 42 career starts and one of the strongest arms in the league and has thrown 45 career touchdown passes. However, he lacks consistency and has made some questionable decisions in throwing 44 interceptions and losing 19 fumbles.

Boller is trying to set an example for his younger colleagues.

"Any way I can help Troy and Joe out, I’m going to do it," Boller said.

During seven-on-seven drills, Boller went first and threw a dangerous pass behind rookie wide receiver Marcus Smith.

"I think 40-some starts is huge," Boller said. "When I get in there in games, it should be easy for me. I’m at that point in my career where things should have slowed down, and I think that’s where I’m at."

The Ravens are hoping that Flacco will also decelerate a little.

Flacco is generally accurate, but tends to throw too hard at times and sailed some of his spirals over receivers’ heads.

What Flacco does have going for him is a quiet poise, a powerful arm that can launch the football 80 yards and prototypical size at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds.

And the first-round draft pick doesn’t seem to be pressing as he undergoes the scrutiny of a high-profile situation in the wake of Steve McNair’s abrupt offseason retirement.

"Once you get here and get settled in, you don’t really feel too much," Flacco said. "You’re ready to play football."

While who will become the starter remains unclear, at least the Ravens won’t have to contend with internal sniping between the quarterbacks as they try to absorb offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system.

"As teammates, we understand that we might need all three of us," Smith said.

 
"That’s how we look at it. This is too challenging of an offense to be thinking only of yourself. It has to be about team."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson

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