The Race Is On


One day after quarterback Steve McNair announced his retirement and shocked many of his teammates, the Ravens got back to work on the second day of minicamp.

And with an open audition for the starting role, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith began their bids to claim the first-string spot.

Donning bright red versions of their game jerseys, each signal-caller is taking every opportunity to stand out before the Ravens likely select a replacement during next weekend's NFL Draft. There is also the potential of adding another quarterback through free agency.

While head coach John Harbaugh is eager to eventually see a fierce competition, he acknowledges that Boller and Smith have looked solid in practices.

"I think they're hungry. They are guys that feel like they have something to prove," said Harbaugh. "They can do all the things quarterbacks do. It's interesting to see the progress from first practice to third practice, in terms of the huddle and the body language. They're getting confident making the calls now.

"Those two guys are leaders."

Boller has been in this position before. After the Ravens picked him 19th overall in the 2003 draft, Boller started Game 1 of his career and went on to lead the offense for the next three seasons until McNair was acquired in 2006.

Despite 42 career starts, Boller feels that his two-year stint as understudy to the decorated veteran helped him mature into a more-capable starter.

"He's taught me a lot – how to study the game, how to play a lot smoother and not be so frantic and not worry about everything so much," he said. "[He taught me] to relax a little bit."

But Boller is not relaxing when it comes to battling to the top of the depth chart.

"I am just trying to earn a spot on this roster, compete and do everything I can to be the starting quarterback on this team. That's how it goes," explained the six-year veteran. "The best guy is going to be out on this field. All can do is put in, from sun up to sun down, all the work I can do to prepare myself and get ready for the opportunity when it presents itself."

On the other hand, Smith finds himself with a realistic shot to helm the offense for the first time in his fledgling career. He did start two games late last season when McNair and Boller were both injured, but that spot duty doesn't compare to being the full-timer.

"It helped me a little bit, because now I've got a little taste," said the former Heisman Trophy winner of his live game action. "It's nowhere near real starting quarterback, but a little taste of what's going on out there will definitely help me."

So far, the biggest challenge has been digesting Cam Cameron's prolific offense. Carrying around a massive playbook this early in the offseason is something new to the signal-callers.

The Ravens got a head start on minicamps, as the wideouts and quarterbacks spent time over the past few weeks working on the passing game inside the indoor practice field. At times, that group included McNair.

Now, with No. 9 out of the picture, Harbaugh said the offense will not change. If anything, it will benefit both Boller and Smith in the form of extra practice reps.

"There is a lot on their plate right now," said the coach. "The thing I've been most impressed with is how fast they've been able to operate the offense, because we've done a lot of no-huddle drills. Cam [Cameron] calls them 'thunder drills.' They've operated very quickly, and I think they pressure our defense a little bit with it."

It may be premature to judge whether Boller or Smith is in the lead, but it is obvious that they both recognize the race is on.

"For me and Troy to keep pushing each other back and forth, I think it will only make our offense better – and definitely our team better," said Boller. "I look forward to it. I would like it no other way."

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