By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
2:49 PM EDT, June 30, 2012
For the first time in his fledgling career, Tyrod Taylor's reign as the Ravens backup quarterback to Joe Flacco is being seriously challenged. But rather than feel threatened by the presence of Curtis Painter, Taylor is embracing the test that should play out when training camp opens later this month.
"There's always going to be competition, and I think that's how you step up your play," Taylor said during the team's mandatory three-day minicamp in June. "Both of us are competing, and by working together, we're getting better."
The race to be the backup quarterback is usually high drama in many NFL cities, but not in Baltimore. That is mostly due to Flacco's remarkable run of durability, which has allowed the five-year veteran to start all 64 regular-season games and nine postseason contests since being drafted in the first round by the franchise in 2008.
So players like Troy Smith in 2008 and 2009, Marc Bulger in 2010 and Taylor in 2011 have spent most of their time standing on the sideline with a clipboard in hand or a headset instead of a helmet over the ears.
But that hasn't diminished the importance of the race between Taylor and Painter to serve as Flacco's backup for the upcoming season. (Rookies John Brantley and Chester Stewart are also on the roster but are considered longshots for the role.)
During the team's mandatory minicamp between June 12-14, both Taylor and Painter got the lion's share of the snaps as Flacco was in Philadelphia during the last two days for the birth of his son.
On the second day, Taylor connected with undrafted rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson for two long receptions for touchdowns. A little later, Painter lobbed a pass to rookie wide receiver Tommy Streeter, a sixth-round pick, in the back left corner of the end zone.
The third day was not as enjoyable for both passers. Taylor was intercepted twice — once by cornerback Lardarius Webb and once by safety Emanuel Cook. Painter had his fair share of miscues, including having a pass picked off by inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
"[T]hey got more reps. That was good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said . "The reps were very valuable. Sometimes the old saying is, 'Life is what happens when you make other plans.' These guys had a chance. The plans were for Joe to take most of the reps, and they took most of the reps. So, what an opportunity and for our team to build reps around those guys, and that's something that will be invaluable for us going forward."
Taylor is the more dynamic of the two candidates, a fleet-footed quarterback who can fire a pass as adeptly as he can escape a collapsing pocket. Painter is the four-year veteran who started eight games last season for former Indianapolis Colts great Peyton Manning.
When the Ravens elected to sign Painter on April 19 after the Colts had waived him, conventional thinking might have kept some distance between he and Taylor. But both players said they have enjoyed a good relationship.
"When he first came in, it was just me and him working out in the offseason program," Taylor said. "He was eager to learn, and we're learning from each other. He's started for a team in the National Football League, and he's played around some great guys. A lot of the stuff we run here is some of the stuff that has carried over from there, and we're learning from each other. He's a great teammate, and it's always competition. Nothing's set in stone, and I think that makes the quarterback play better."
Painter said he and Taylor usually spend a lot of time in the minicamps conferring with each other after one comes off the field.
"It's a lot of him coming off the field and asking me if I saw something that he may have missed. And it's vice versa. I've come back and asked him," Painter said. "So I think it's more of that. It's kind of like having another set of eyes out there, which helps me out and hopefully, it helps him out. Hopefully, it makes us both better."
Painter's experience as a starter figures to be an important benefit for the 27 year old. He completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,541 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions in Indianapolis.
"I guess I've got a little bit of experience — for whatever that's worth," Painter said. "I think for me personally, it's been good just to get that experience and get some game time exposure. I don't know if it's an advantage, but it certainly helps me, I think."
Taylor may not have the background that Painter has, but he has a full season in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system. That familiarity should help, but Taylor didn't put too much weight behind that.
"I'm learning, too," he said. "A lot of the stuff I do know, but this is my first offseason. He's been to many offseasons. So this time, for me to focus on the bases of the offense and have a full offseason, I think it's prepared me. I'm just trying to compete and be better than I was last year and be better than I was the day before."
Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who is serving his first year in that capacity for the Ravens, said Taylor and Painter are taking advantage of the offseason workouts to refine their skills.
"The guys are getting a lot of good work, a lot of good solid work that I think is extremely important, particularly at this time of year, working against one of the best defenses the league has ever seen," said Caldwell, who was the head coach with the Colts when Painter was the starter. "Getting an opportunity to work against them week in and week out, day in and day out is going to benefit them. So we'll see how things go. Tyrod's doing well. Curtis is working hard. So they'll keep their nose to the grindstone and see what happens."
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