For the past three weeks, Dan Crowley has gone through a strange transition.
As one of four quarterbacks left in the Baltimore Football Club training camp at Towson State, Crowley is busy learning a new game, proving himself all over again.
And he's doing it at the site where he fashioned a terrific collegiate career, putting up numbers that enticed Baltimore to invite him to two off-season workouts.
One camp does not make a professional career, yet Crowley, at 22 the youngest player on the roster, is making people notice him again.
Baltimore coach Don Matthews certainly has. Matthews, in search of two backups to veteran Tracy Ham, has named Crowley the starter in tonight's exhibition opener against visiting Ottawa.
Crowley will run the offense for the first quarter. He recalled a similar audition in his freshman season at Towson State, when he began a four-year run as a starter, in which he threw for 8,900 yards and 81 touchdowns. He finished with 15 school passing records.
"I've started for four years, and this will be just another start, right?" Crowley said sarcastically. "Really, I can't wait. It's going to be a lot different playing in Memorial Stadium, compared to Minnegan Stadium [Towson's home field]. I don't think they would have done it [let him start] if I didn't prove myself these last few weeks. Hopefully, I'll show them this weekend that I deserved it."
Crowley has shown his teammates and the Baltimore coaching staff plenty already, beginning with the strongest arm in camp. Throw in his quick feet, cool demeanor and the rapid rate at which he is learning Baltimore's offense, and you have a promising rookie who is shaping up as the team's probable No. 3 quarterback, behind Shawn Jones or Len Williams.
"Everyone, players and coaches alike, is impressed with his skill at throwing the football. In terms of arm strength and accuracy, he's probably the best pure passer on our football team," Matthews said. "His decision-making in the Canadian game has to take over now. He gets a chance to go out and move the sticks. We knew when we signed him that he had a good arm. And he's had his good days, that's for sure."
"He [Crowley] takes control of the huddle. He throws a beautiful ball," said slotback Chris Armstrong, the team's premier receiver. "It takes confidence and a strong arm to play in this league, and he has both."
Crowley (6 feet 1, 185 pounds) was not the picture of confidence when camp opened May 27. That day, he threw like a rookie unsure of himself -- missing open receivers, forcing passes into coverage, aiming the ball too much. Since then, Crowley has made a noticeable turnaround, especially when running the no-huddle drill.
Crowley credits his improvement partly to the relaxing surroundings at Towson State. Throughout camp, he stayed in the same dorm where his college career began. The practice fields, training room, locker rooms -- Crowley has traveled those paths as well. Even guest coach Gordy Combs, Crowley's old Towson State mentor, has been there to offer support.
The rest of Crowley's progress has been measured by his ability to absorb Baltimore's offense, with the help of people like Ham and offensive coordinator Steve Buratto.
"He's got a good head on his shoulders," Ham said. "It's important that guys understand game situations, and he's already asking clock management questions. He adjusts quickly."
Said Crowley: "The first day [of camp] was sort of a shock, being out there with 80 of these guys. It just wasn't realistic to me. It shook me up. I didn't know anybody. You don't know what practice will be like, what drills they're going to run.
"Now, I feel comfortable. I'm throwing the ball well. When I'm in there calling my own plays, it feels almost natural. Right now, I've got to work on [recognizing] defenses. I've settled down and made some good plays."
Buratto agreed. "He's moving along faster than any rookie I've ever been around. He picks things up quickly and makes good decisions," he said. "He's made a big jump in recognizing defenses. I'm surprised at how well he's holding his own."
Combs, having seen enough of Crowley, isn't surprised by his improvement.
"He'll do well, because he's smart and he has tremendous poise," Combs said.
"That was the first thing that got my attention about him in his first year here. He never rattles. He was always under control, and he was always able to relate that to the rest of the team."
Ottawa vs. Baltimore
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: 7:30 tonight
6* Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)
OTTAWA-BALTIMORE EXHIBITION TONIGHT
Site: Memorial Stadium
TV/Radio: HTS (tape delay, tomorrow, 9:30 p.m.); WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)
Last year: Baltimore finished a 14-7 season by losing to B.C. in the Grey Cup. Ottawa finished tied for fourth in the Eastern Division with a 4-14 record.
Outlook: Because 34 of Baltimore's remaining 56 players played here during the team's Eastern Division championship run last year, this is the night the rookies need to shine, especially considering the roster will be cut to at least 55 -- and probably lower, said coach Don Matthews -- by Monday.
Veterans Tracy Ham (QB), Jearld Baylis (NT), Walter Wilson (WR) and Greg Tucker (rush end) will not play. Wilson is nursing a tender hamstring. Baylis is resting his reconstructed knee. Tucker has shin splints. That creates more opportunities for WR Shannon Culver, who is pushing Wilson with a terrific camp. The same goes for rookie defensive linemen Demetroius Maxie and Jeff Cooke, who is battling veteran Robert Presbury at DT.
While the team experiments with the move of O. J. Brigance back to LB, rookie rush ends Jock Jones and Grant Carter are competing for Brigance's old job. At LB, rookies Maurice Gravely, Jason Bryant and Mike Jones and veterans Alvin Walton and Malcolm Goodwin essentially are battling for two jobs. Bryant has had a great camp. In the backfield, rookie Courtney Griffin and veteran James Bullock are vying for one open job.
On offense, rookie QB Dan Crowley, looking more and more like the team's third-string passer, will play the first quarter. Veterans Shawn Jones and Len Williams are fighting for the No. 2 job. The backfield is set with RBs Mike Pringle and Robert Drummond and FB Peter Tuipulotu. Rookie RBs Willie Latta and Chris Wright will look to make a mark as kick returners, while rookie FB William Pollard and veteran Reggie Perry need to show their versatility at SB and on special teams.
The best battle among the receivers is between vets Joe Washington and Mike Alexander at SB.
On the offensive line, C Nick Subis and OTs Neal Fort and Shar Pourdanesh are secure, while Guy Earle, James Earle, and rookies Marc Borrelli, Mike Withycombe and Marc Borrelli are vying for two starting jobs. Withycombe could take another step toward winning the starting left guard job tonight.
Ottawa, picked to finish last in the North Division, has a new coach in Jim Gilstrap. The Rough Riders' most promising talent includes QB Shawn Moore, the former Virginia standout, who is pushing incumbent Danny Barrett and NFL veteran WR Odessa Turner.