John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and the offensive assistants expected to have a starting quarterback by this week. That way, the first offense could get some fine tuning in tonight's preseason finale against the Falcons, and the first subs could get some extensive time since they won't be getting as many snaps in the regular season.
Well, the coaches don't know who the starter is right now. Clearly, they have an idea, and probably could declare that right now. But, a set of unusual circumstances leaves the situation a bit unsettled.
This is my perception of what happened with our quarterbacks since we started minicamps back in April. Obviously, I have some inside knowledge. But, coaches and Ozzie Newsome also are very secretive about what they share, even with senior staff members. One of the main reasons they kept to themselves about who was/is leading the QB derby is to keep the Bengals (our opponent for the regular season opener) guessing, forcing them to prepare for multiple QBs. The only time you can really do this is when you have a new head coach and not a declared starting QB.
Again – this is my perception:
When the spring practices started, Coaches Harbaugh and Cameron were surprised with Troy Smith. Around the coaches, you heard things like: "He's better than I thought he'd be…There's something about that guy…Love his leadership and his charisma."
(A little tribute to Stan White here: Stan, the former Baltimore Colt linebacker and 13-year NFL veteran, is an analyst on our radio and preseason-TV broadcasts. His son, Stan Jr., was the starting fullback on Troy Smith's Ohio State teams. When we drafted Troy, Stan told us that Smith would grow on us. "He's a winner, and he plays better in games than he does in practices, because practices aren't real football. Football is adjusting after the ball is snapped and Troy knows how to make plays," White said. And Stan has turned out to be correct. Troy keeps growing on us.)
At the same time, you heard new coaches talking about Kyle: "You can see why he was a number one pick – big arm, excellent athlete, smart."
When Joe Flacco arrived, there was a "wow" factor. Joe had the coaches buzzing: "Look at that release. Look how quickly he gets rid of the ball. Look at the accuracy. Look at how quick his feet are for a big man." Like in Jerry Maguire, Joe had us at "Hello." It was only going to be a matter of time before Flacco would be the starter. Would that be by the start of the season? Mid-season? His second season? We'd all find out.
As we approached training camp, I sensed that Troy had pulled ahead of Kyle, but that Joe was not far behind.
Smith stepped up early in camp, looking very sharp in the first days at McDaniel College. Troy then seemed to hit a lull, and Boller got hot. Kyle – showing how competitive he is – battled back and seemingly grabbed the top spot. Flacco, meanwhile, continued to improve, but wasn't playing as fast as the coaches wanted. (It's a huge jump from playing at Delaware to the NFL.)
It wasn't clear cut, and the next test was the start of the preseason games. Boller was given the first start against the Patriots up in Foxboro. Smith also played, but neither made a big enough statement to be declared the starter.
Smith got the start against the Vikings. Kyle replaced him in that game and took a huge hit to his right chest/shoulder area. Tough guy that he is, Boller bounced up and threw a long incompletion on the next play.
Still no declared winner after the Vikings' game. As the coaches and personnel staff talked about the next game, preseason game 3 at St. Louis (8/23), it was decided that Troy would start and get most of the snaps. Why? The competition for the starter was tight. There are five years of starts/games on tape that coaches have studied Boller. There was little game action for Smith. Flacco was still behind these two.
We all saw what happened with that plan.
Two days before the game at St. Louis, team trainers reported to Coach Harbaugh that Boller's right chest area was not responding quickly to treatment. And, oh by the way, Troy "has a little fever and some discomfort in his neck area."
By the time we were getting on our charter to St. Louis, no one wanted to sit by Troy. He looked bad, had a fever and he couldn't keep anything in his stomach. Boller had tried to make some throws, but it was obvious that if he did play, he was going to be very limited.
Game day came, and Smith was ordered to his bed with a viral illness that would cause him to lose 13 pounds over the next few days. Gallantly, Boller thought he could be ready to play after warming up before the game. Kyle didn't get that far. Trainers and doctors held him out, and told him that he was going to have to get some serious tests done.
(Aside: We have a lot of tough guys in football. The mindset for many is that, "I can play through injury. Leave me alone. I'll be fine." Trainers and doctors often have to coax out of the players how much they are hurting. If a player keeps insisting he's fine, or doesn't report an injury, our medical staff will have difficulty diagnosing.)
That made Joe Flacco our only healthy quarterback for the game against the Rams. Joe had not taken any snaps with the first team in practice the week before. Those had gone to Troy.
And, as has been the case consistently with Joe, he got better as he played more. He was better in the 2nd quarter than he was in the 1st. Better in the 2nd half than he was in the first two periods.
That brought us to this "short" week with tonight's game against the Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium. Troy, the QB the coaches would love to see play tonight, has not practiced this week. He's feeling better, but he does not have his strength back. He wants to play. It will not be his call. The medical staff will make that call later today.
Boller has had one set of extensive tests and will have more tomorrow. His range of motion with his throwing arm is not very good right now. He can't play tonight. That leaves Joe Flacco, who has now thrown every pass in the last 5 practices and in St. Louis. And, he keeps getting better.
Yesterday, I asked John Harbaugh who his starting quarterback would be tonight. He smiled and said, "Are you ready?" We do have an unusual situation right now.
We planned to keep the starting quarterback a mystery to the Bengals as long as we could. We're achieving that. We just didn't think it would be such a mystery for us. Let's see what happens tonight.
Enjoy the game. Talk to you next week.
Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.