Ravens coach Brian Billick has refused to say any quarterback controversy exists on his team, although the position has started to resemble a derby in recent days.
One slot is clear, for now. Scott Mitchell, coming off a rough outing in the season-opening, 27-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, will start against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's home opener. The depth chart gets interesting after that.
Less than a month after signing with the Ravens, former No. 3 quarterback Stoney Case has been elevated to No. 2, meaning another shaky performance by Mitchell could thrust Case into action against the Steelers.
Then there is backup Tony Banks, whom the Ravens acquired from St. Louis on draft day for a fifth-round pick this year and a sixth-round choice next year.
After beginning training camp as the backup ahead of former No. 3 man Wally Richardson -- he was cut after Case joined the team -- Banks stumbled in camp, recovered with some electrifying moments early in the preseason, but has seen his stock slip again.
Several teams have contacted the Ravens in the past two weeks about trading for Banks. With the league trading deadline Oct. 19, the Ravens would like to get a third-round pick for him but probably would settle for a fourth-rounder. If Banks leaves town, the Ravens may consider bringing back Richardson to fill his old role.
"Scott Mitchell is a proven quarterback, and I think he will show what he is capable of doing, but there are no guarantees whatsoever," Billick said.
"Just look around the league. At any given instance, whether it's due to injury, whether it's a quarterback playing poorly, changes are made. The bottom line is not about personal stats. It's about: Is he moving the team? I have no reason to believe that anybody can move this team better than Scott Mitchell right now."
Banks, who has started 43 games in his four-year career, has not accepted his demotion without some expected grumbling. On Monday, he left the team's Owings Mills facility immediately after a brief workout. He was unavailable to comment yesterday, the players' day off.
"I'm sure [Banks] is not happy about it. I don't know how any player would be in that position. Tony understands, like all players have to, their roles call for certain things," Billick said. "It's not unlikely that teams, if not now, then in the future, will be contacting us about a third quarterback who has a great deal of experience."
At 27 and in his fifth season, Case has virtually no playing experience. Originally drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals in 1995, he played in only four games and started one over the next four seasons, before moving on to the Indianapolis Colts six months ago, presumably to be Peyton Manning's backup.
The Colts, who signed Case to a two-year deal that included a $500,000 signing bonus, surprised many observers by cutting Case and opting for Steve Walsh, after Case played well in training camp.
Case, 6 feet 3, 206 pounds, signed with the Ravens on Aug. 17, then immersed himself in Billick's playbook. He caught Billick's eye by engineering game-winning drives in the last two preseason victories over the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants.
And a week after the Giants game, Case found out that, instead of carrying a clipboard on the sideline, he would be a step away from the hot seat that Mitchell currently occupies.
"They asked me to learn the offense as quickly as possible. I wasn't really concerned with whether I was going to be No. 2 or No. 3 or where I was in the grand scheme of things," Case said. "I didn't know what to expect. I was starting over from scratch when everybody else knew the offense and was in the routine."
Case responded by completing 21 of 35 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
"My job was to convince the coaching staff that I knew enough to get into some preseason games, then show them that I have some potential if I get in there," Case said.
"I play this game to take snaps and make throws and make plays. It's not to stand there and hold a clipboard and watch. You have to fight through the boredom of sitting back and watching the action. I'll never be satisfied by being a backup. I think a lot of guys are, but that's not me."
Said Billick: "The backup quarterback has a tough task. He gets minimal reps and he has to take something from the classroom onto the field in a critical situation if we need him. Stoney Case fits what I need out of my backup right now. He has shown the ability to grasp the offense very quickly."
NOTES: Billick said left guard James Atkins, who has been recovering from a torn right hamstring for the past four weeks, could be ready to play against Pittsburgh. Atkins has lost his starting job to Everett Lindsay. The Ravens have never started a season 0-2. Pittsburgh owns a plus-10 turnover ratio advantage in its six games against the Ravens since 1996. Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis has averaged 102.6 yards rushing in five games against the Ravens, while rushing for more than 100 in four of them.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Steelers by 2 1/2
Tickets: Sold out
Pub Date: 9/15/99