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Smith is the Man for Rams


Head coach John Harbaugh named Troy Smith the starting quarterback for this weekend's preseason matchup against the St. Louis Rams.

And that's it - for now.

While Smith has earned the right to start in the Ravens' third preseason game, which typically features the first-stringers a coach wants on the field for Week 1, Harbaugh thinks his quarterback search could continue until the Cincinnati Bengals come to Baltimore on Sept. 7.

"I'd like to [have named a regular-season starter] this week," Harbaugh said after practice Tuesday. "I'd have liked to a week ago. You'd like to know your guy in March, but that's not the situation that we're in, and we need to manage this the right way and the smart way.

"It could be anywhere in between – after the third game is over or five minutes before the Bengals game. We've got that option to do it however we need."

Smith, a 2007 fifth-round draft pick, only made five throws in a pedestrian effort last week against the Minnesota Vikings, completing three of them for 25 yards and one interception (33.3 passer rating). Still, he did lead the Ravens' only touchdown drive on their first series.

The former Heisman Trophy winner also showed flashes of playmaking ability with his legs, rushing for 35 yards on three attempts.

"It was all right, it can definitely get better," Smith said after the game. "There are some areas on the field where my passing game can get better. I can still get better."

Perhaps because of the light work load versus the Vikings, the Ravens' coaching staff wants to see more from Smith at this point.

Harbaugh feels the team already knows what it has in Kyle Boller, who had started 42 games since the Ravens made him the 19th-overall selection in the 2003 draft.

Boller entered last Saturday's contest in the second half, but didn't fare much better than Smith. Posting a 36.8 passer rating, Boller completed eight of 12 attempts for 40 yards, tossing an interception - like Smith - on his final pass.

Smith is expected to see the majority of snaps in St. Louis, while Harbaugh hinted that rookie Joe Flacco could be the next quarterback off the bench.

"Right now, I would suspect that Troy would get every opportunity to play a lot," the coach explained. "As long as those 'ones' are in there, I would suspect Troy would be in there. But, if we're getting a feel for something and feel at some point in time that we want to try something else or go a different direction, then we always have the option to do that in a preseason game.

"We may bring Joe in at the end."

Still, the decision will come down to the veteran duo and not Flacco. Both Boller and Smith have picked up offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system faster than the wide-eyed prospect from Division I-AA Delaware.

"The thing that, to me, is almost amazing, is the way they've operated the offense," said Harbaugh. "We can all get upset or nitpick a throw here or a ball-handling situation there, but they've managed the offense very well. You're talking about a brand new offense.

"We haven't had too many situations where we look like, 'Man, we don't know what we're doing out there!' They're getting guys lined up, they're getting guys in position. They're handling the clock. I think that's been a really big plus."

With the battle under center possibly extending through the preseason, Flacco may not get a chance to start at all. The first-round pick (18th overall) was originally expected to begin at least one of the four contests before opening day.

"I'd like to see him get a start, but we only play four games, so it's not going to be possible," Harbaugh said.

In the end, the quarterback issue could be a week-to-week debate, lasting past Sept. 7 until one candidate jumps out to stake his claim.

At a time when the Ravens are anything but normal with their situation under center, Harbaugh could only sum it up with a typical coaching quotation.

"I hate to say it is what it is - because that's cliché - but it kind of is," he noted with a chuckle. "We think we have three really good quarterbacks who can play quarterback in this league - we really do. I'm excited to see somebody take it over. They're both trying to do that, and Joe's trying to do that, too.

"It's going to play out over a long period of time, it's not going to be something that's going to happen tomorrow. It's going to happen up until the opener, and then the truth of the matter is, as we all know, it's going to carry out through the season. That's great, because competition makes everybody better."

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