To get the Brian Billick era off to a winning start, one of the tasks facing the Ravens on Sunday in St. Louis is finding a way to beat what's-his-name.
That would be Kurt Warner. No, the former Penn State star running back, Curt Warner, is not making a comeback.
It's another Warner, as in quarterback Kurt Warner. As in the Arena Football League renegade, who found his way to St. Louis a year ago, then found his way to the starting lineup last month when Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Warner, 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, is 28 and came to the NFL by way of Northern Iowa, the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena League and the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe. He has completed four of 11 passes in his NFL career. All four completions came with the Rams in the fourth quarter of the final game of the 1998 season.
Warner is no joke to the Ravens. First of all, he is working with some proven players, beginning with running back Marshall Faulk and wide receiver Isaac Bruce. Then there is rookie wide receiver sensation Torry Holt, who nearly ended up with the Ravens in April's draft.
Second, Warner stepped in for Green in the middle of the preseason and turned a few heads. He completed 31 of 51 passes for 362 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett had a quizzical look on his face when asked about Warner yesterday. Burnett was preparing to get his first look at Warner on tape.
"I'm sure [Warner] has got talent, or else he wouldn't be there," Burnett said. "The fact that he played in the Arena League doesn't have much to do with the talent he has. The guy was overlooked. That happens."
Said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis: "He's played well and has been very efficient since the starter got hurt. [The Rams] have showed confidence in him. I've seen him zip the ball right in there on third-and-10."
The Ravens know better than to underrate any quarterback, be it a household name or an unknown quantity. Think back to the season opener in 1997, when a guy named Rob Johnson replaced Jacksonville's Mark Brunell and completed 20 of 24 passes to lead the Jaguars to victory.
Later that season, Glenn Foley came off the bench to lead the New York Jets to an overtime victory over the Ravens. Foley has been back on the bench for a year. Oh, and there was Bobby Hoying of the Philadelphia Eagles, whom the Ravens could not beat despite rushing for more than 200 yards and recording nine sacks.
Last November, the Ravens came up short against Craig Whelihan, who is now looking for work, having been waived by San Diego on Sunday. Last December, the Chicago Bears' Steve Stenstrom completed 19 of 28 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown to embarrass the Ravens, 24-3.
Which brings us back to Warner, who is nothing if not determined.
From 1995 to 1997, Warner toiled with the Barnstormers, racking up 10,164 yards and 183 touchdowns, both team records. He then went overseas to prove his worth some more in 1998. He started all 10 games for the Admirals and led NFL Europe in passing yards (2,101), attempts (326), completions (165) and touchdowns (15).
Billick looks at Warner and sees a tenacious rookie with good arm strength and something to prove. Billick also looks at the other weapons in the Rams' offense and sees valuable room in which Warner can breathe.
"He seems to understand that he has enough talent around him to let them do their job. He doesn't have to win the game [by himself]," Billick said.
"He seems to be very efficient. He's an older rookie, so to speak, so he'll have a certain amount of poise. This is going to be a hard-fought game. Any game on the road is."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: St. Louis Rams
Site: Trans World Dome, St. Louis
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Pub Date: 9/08/99