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The Other Arm


During Tuesday's rookie camp practice, first-round draft pick Joe Flacco dropped back from center, scanned the defense and found a receiver streaking in front of - oddly enough - another quarterback.

That red-jerseyed "defender" was Brad Roach, who filled in at safety while the Ravens' coaches worked with a rookie-only roster.

With much of this three-day session focusing on Flacco's development, Roach is serving as a relief pitcher for the 18th-overall selection. Flacco gets a gross majority of the reps under center, while the rookie free agent waits in the wings for his few chances.

Roach hopes to prove he's worthy of a training camp invitation in Westminster, Md., next month with whatever reps fall his way.

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to come play in the NFL. I just want to stick around as long as possible."

Just to be playing on this level is an accomplishment for the 23-year-old out of tiny Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.

Roach came out of Williamston (N.C.) High School as an All-State performer and North Carolina's Mr. Football, but despite passing for 5,401 yards and 49 touchdowns in two years as a starter, he was lightly regarded to NCAA recruiters.

"I was recruited by some schools around my hometown, but really only got offers from three schools," Roach admitted. "I couldn't pass up a free college education, so I went to Catawba."

At the Division II school, Roach set opposing defenses on fire. He finished his collegiate career ranked No. 2 on Catawba's all-time passing list in yards (7,874), touchdowns (62) and completion percentage (55.3 percent).

He was even named the South Atlantic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after leading Catawba to an 11-2 record and a league title.

But there just haven't been enough footballs for Roach to show what he can do on a consistent basis.

The Ravens like Roach's prototypical size (a sturdy 6-foot-6, 245 pounds) and strong arm, but there is a race for the starting quarterback spot that will continue into training camp. Therefore, coaches are looking to split the reps fairly evenly between Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and Flacco.

Roach, whose brother Kevin was a wide receiver at East Carolina, is still working hard for those times he does helm the offense.

"Coming into this situation, I'm not getting a lot of reps, so I'm having to take mental reps when I'm watching the other guys in there," he said. "I'm just trying to learn the playbook every day on my own or with the coaches. The coaches have been there all along."

It sounds as if Roach put that free education to good use. The sports management graduate has impressed in the classroom.

"We all know that the quarterback position starts with the mental part of the game," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "There are a ton of guys with the physical ability, and the good news for him is that he's got the mental makeup. He's picked things up quickly. I'll look forward to seeing how he progresses."

Unfortunately for Roach, roster numbers are even tighter this year than in the past.

Because the NFL did away with the developmental NFL Europa - and the extra roster exemptions it afforded each team - teams can only bring 80 players to training camp.

"This year is a little different, where everybody is only taking 80 guys to training camp, but he's trying to make an impression every day to give himself an opportunity," Cameron continued.

When asked about the likelihood of keeping four quarterbacks on the roster, head coach John Harbaugh gave a grim response.

"I think that'd be really hard to do," Harbaugh said. "It's always a possibility, but it would be hard to do."

Still, Roach keeps a positive outlook. He points to previous undrafted free agents or low draft picks that have succeeded in the past, such as Carolina's Jake Delhomme or Cleveland's Derek Anderson (a sixth-round selection by the Ravens in 2005).

"There are a lot of things that motivate me," Roach said. "There are a lot of past quarterbacks that have become great after being late draft picks or undrafted. It's a chance for me to hopefully follow in their footsteps. It's just an opportunity to come out here and try to improve."

Working with Cameron, who is known for developing quarterbacks, is also a boon for Roach.

"Cam has been huge for me," he noted. "I learn so many things every day. He's a good mentor for quarterbacks."

The odds may be against him, but Roach refuses to give up. He knows he's made it this far, and the next step is training camp.

"Some days when I'm down, I talk to my dad and he'll bring me back to earth," said the 23-year-old. "He just tells me that there are tons of guys that would love to be in my position,' so I'm trying to enjoy it."

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