Tyrod Taylor has manned the clipboard on the sideline for three years, living the life of a backup quarterback while Joe Flacco has orchestrated the Ravens' offense.
Flacco has been remarkably durable and never missed a start in his six seasons despite a sprained medial collateral ligament, a hip contusion and minor ankle and knee injuries.
The Ravens have never had to experience life without Flacco during the regular season or playoffs. And Taylor has never truly been put to the test of running the offense in a critical situation.
That makes a rare starting opportunity like Thursday night's preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome pivotal for Taylor and the Ravens should Flacco ever get hurt.
"It's very important," Taylor said. "They expect you to be a professional. You have to treat the job as if you're coming in to be the starter. I've always had the mindset as far as my work ethic.
"I'm prepared to be the starter, but you never know what can happen or when it may happen, so you have to be ready. Can't be a loss of confidence [from] your teammates or your coaches, that this guy can't go out there and prove he can play. My job is to prove that to them each and every day I step on this field."
Taylor struggled during the later moments of a 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots last season when Flacco sprained his left knee. He completed just one of four passes for 2 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.
Taylor has completed 19 of 35 career passes for 199 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 47.2 quarterback rating. In an all-purpose role where he lined up at wide receiver and also at quarterback with Flacco split out wide last year, Taylor rushed for 64 yards on eight carries and caught one pass for 6 yards.
During this preseason, the 2011 sixth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech has displayed signs of improvement. He's been more accurate and decisive and shown his usual athleticism as a scrambler.
Taylor has completed 65.8 percent of his throws for two touchdowns and one interception for an 89.8 quarterback rating in three preseason games. He's rushed for 100 yards on a dozen carries.
"My brother [San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh] has told me many times how you evaluate a quarterback: 'Can you envision and see how he's going to move your football team?'" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We can all see how Tyrod can move the football team. That's how we're evaluating him, and he's done a very good job."
With the starters not playing, this game is something Taylor relishes. Instead of watching Flacco from the sideline, Taylor will be on the field running the offense while Flacco cheers him on.
"I look forward to all the preseason snaps that I get," Taylor said. "Being a backup quarterback, you never know when your reps are going to come, but you know you're going to get a chance to play in the preseason. I cherish these moments."
Entering the final year of a four-year, $2.155 million rookie contract, Taylor, 25, knows this could be his last season with the Ravens.
During the NFL owners meetings, Harbaugh emphasized that the team needs to plan ahead for the future since Taylor's contract expires after this season.
The Ravens drafted rookie quarterback Keith Wenning in the sixth round, but he's struggled and hasn't mounted a challenge for Taylor's job.
Taylor is entrenched as the backup for this year, but what happens next is undetermined.
"I feel like every time you step on the field, not only are the eyes of the organization that you play for [on you], but every other team is watching, because everything is filmed," Taylor said. "Any time you get a chance to play, you're definitely building your resume and showing other teams, as well as the team you're with, what you can do."
Each year, Taylor has collaborated with Flacco in a supportive role. They've also become good friends.
"We've built a strong relationship," Taylor said. "Last year was a little disappointing, but we've had fun times, and there's been down times, too. We've always competed and pushed each other to be our very best."
In an effort to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense, Taylor spent five weeks this offseason being coached by former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was recently named the Montreal Alouettes' quarterbacks coach, Garcia operated the West Coast system for the 49ers and several other teams.
Taylor said Garcia imparted how critical it is to make quick decisions to run new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system.
"The rhythm of a West Coast offense is to get the ball out your hands, timing throws, pre-snap reads and just overall getting adjusted with what the defense is going to give you," Taylor said. "It's fun to run."
Taylor bulked up to 214 pounds to improve his durability and strength.
As he's grown more experienced, Taylor said he feels more prepared to step in if Flacco is ever sidelined. The former Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year isn't a classic pocket passer like Flacco, but has his own style. Growing up in Hampton, Va., Taylor was a Parade Magazine prep All-American as the nation's top dual-threat quarterback with 7,690 career all-purpose yards and 100 career touchdowns.
"I'm confident in my ability," said Taylor, who passed for 7,017 yards and 44 touchdowns in college. "Whatever the situation may be, I think I can go out there and provide, make plays, run the offense, be the leader. I believe I'm a natural leader."
Against the Washington Redskins last week, Taylor completed 6 of 9 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 35 yards on five carries.
"Tyrod is great," rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill) said. "He's our backup, but I think he could start on a lot of other teams around the league. We definitely have some chemistry. It's going to be a lot fun playing with him this game coming up."
Where Taylor has occasionally had lapses is in missing open receivers, including wide receiver Kamar Aiken a few times in the end zone. Quarterbacks' effectiveness is primarily measured by victories.
"The main goal is to win," Taylor said. "The main objective is for our offense to put up great numbers. As far as a personal goal, just to continue to improve on my game and show the things that I can do."
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