Ravens coach Brian Billick yesterday named Stoney Case his starting quarterback against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, replacing Scott Mitchell, who apparently had become too immobile and ineffective in the team's West Coast offense.
Billick would not announce his starting running back, but apparently Errict Rhett, who rushed for 101 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, has replaced Priest Holmes as the No. 1 runner, according to both players.
Billick made the quarterback move one day after he benched Mitchell in the first five minutes of the third quarter in the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Steelers. Mitchell completed seven of 16 passes for 48 yards against the Steelers, but was off on most of his passes, including ones in the flat. He completed 24 of 56 passes in six-plus quarters played this season.
Case started slowly Sunday, but led the Ravens on fourth-quarter scoring drives of 51 and 72 yards, the latter one ending in a 19-yard touchdown pass to Qadry Ismail that tied the game 20-20 with 1: 22 remaining. Case finished the day by completing seven of 15 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
"He has earned that right," Billick said of Case's opportunity to start. "He brings another element, which is his athleticism. Stoney has given us a lift every time he has played. He is big enough [6 feet 3, 201 pounds], has a live arm. He is decisive. He can move around and make plays when something breaks down, and the guys respond to his leadership."
Case, 27, could become one of the league's top success stories. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round in 1995 and later allocated to the Barcelona Dragons of the World League in the spring of 1997. He played for the Cardinals later that year before being replaced as the starter by Jake Plummer.
Case was signed by the Indianapolis Colts last March and cut about five months later.
"I'm excited about this. I've waited a long time," said Case, who, including Sunday, has completed 37 of only 72 passes in five NFL seasons. "I want the ball in my hands, I want to be out there. I have to play well enough to keep the position and well enough for us to win.
"I'm still buzzing about what has happened to me. I have gone from being released to not having a job to being a starter. I welcome the challenge of running the offense and helping the team win. I would rather be the starter than a relief pitcher. There won't be a lot of changes, though. I'll prepare as a starter the same way I did as a backup."
Several members of the Ravens' coaching staff have a history with Case. Running backs coach Matt Simon was Case's offensive coordinator in 1993 at New Mexico where the Lobos averaged 413 yards and 30.5 points a game. Ravens quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh coached Case with the Cardinals.
Billick had enough background on Case to cut former Ravens quarterback Wally Richardson after two preseason games and Case left an impression by winning the team's final two exhibition games on passing plays in the final moments. Case becomes the Ravens' fifth starting quarterback in less than four seasons. He may be the most mobile of either Vinny Testaverde, Eric Zeier, Jim Harbaugh and Mitchell, his predecessors.
Billick said the move to Case is not temporary. It's his job to lose through poor performance or injury.
"Clearly, the game has gotten so fast, so multiple, that you have to have athleticism out there and if not, then you're at a disadvantage," said Billick.
When asked why he acquired the immobile Mitchell, who will make $3 million in his one-year contract, Billick responded: "It comes back to the same thing. There wasn't a lot out there. He was the best option available. Clearly, our quarterback situation has improved much more now than when I got here.
"Stoney has a lot of confidence, enthusiasm and a bounce about him that you respond to to a degree. My expectations are for him to make plays, be efficient and not turn the ball over. If my expectations were any less, than I wouldn't put him in there."
Case said: "I feel the teammates, fans and players believe in me. I do feel for Scott. Any quarterback feels like he is the man, but you have to put your emotions aside."
Both Mitchell and Billick had very little to say about Mitchell's demotion.
"I really don't have anything to say right now," said Mitchell, when asked about being benched. Billick said it would be unfair to talk about any Mitchell shortcomings, but did quote Clint Eastwood in what sounded like a farewell.
"There is a line in the movie 'Unforgiven.' Clint Eastwood says, 'When you kill a man, it's a hell of a thing, because you've taken away everything he's got and everything he's ever going to have,' " Billick said.
"You don't do that lightly. I don't know what the future holds for Scott Mitchell here or anyplace else. Scott was clearly at the crossroads and he'll have to deal with this. This has not turned out the way any of us would have liked."
Billick would not say if Tony Banks or Mitchell would become the No. 2 quarterback, but Billick seemed to suggest that it was Banks. "Stand by," said Billick.
Banks didn't care one way or the other.
"I wasn't aware I was second string," Banks said. "It doesn't matter because I've never considered myself a backup or third string anyway. I'm just going to stay positive. Billick has his way of doing things. All I can do is stay positive."
Apparently, a lot of the players feel the same way. Changes are expected under first-year coaches. The revolving door could keep spinning.
"At this point, I don't think Billick is going to stop until he gets the best at every position," said right offensive tackle Harry Swayne. "Quarterback is not safe from that. The change doesn't surprise me. This won't stop with Stoney Case. Nobody's job is guaranteed. I know if I was playing quarterback on this team I would be ready."
Billick, in an effort to make Cleveland prepare for both players, refused to name his starting running back. "We'll let you know when we let you know," Billick said.
So here's what to know: Holmes, who rushed for 52 yards on 12 attempts in the first game, basically conceded the job to Rhett. Holmes hasn't fully recovered from a knee sprain in the first game, but Rhett showed great explosion against the Steelers.
"It feels good to be up in there," Rhett said. "You want to be in there having fun, to feel like you're part of the game."
Said Holmes: "Injuries are a part of the game, you have to accept that. I'm very confident in what I can do. It's just a matter of getting well. He [Rhett] has all my support. Unless Jay Graham gets activated, I'll be the one to give him a little time off."
The Ravens' switch in starting quarterbacks from Scott Mitchell to Stoney Case is one of five changes through two weeks in the NFL because of injury or ineffectiveness.
Team Week 1 starter Reason out Replacement
Browns Ty Detmer Ineffective Tim Couch
Falcons Chris Chandler Hamstring Tony Graziani
Jets Vinny Testaverde Achilles' Rick Mirer
Ravens Scott Mitchell Ineffective Stoney Case
Titans Steve McNair Back Neil O'Donnell
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK
Line: Ravens by 12
Tickets: Sold out