Banks cashes in on pocket change; Ravens alter direction, turn to third starting quarterback of season; Case benched after 4 starts; Billick makes move to generate offense


In an effort to get more offensive production, Ravens coach Brian Billick named a new starting quarterback yesterday for the second time in seven weeks, inserting Tony Banks for Stoney Case, who had directed the offense in the previous four games.

The move wasn't a surprise, especially with the Ravens (2-4) playing the Buffalo Bills (4-3) on Sunday at PSINet Stadium. Nearly six weeks ago in a home game, fans chanted Case's name when he relieved in the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thursday night, he was booed loudly as he threw three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in a 35-8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Banks, acquired during the off-season from the St. Louis Rams for two draft picks, relieved Case in the fourth quarter and led the team to its only touchdown in the past two games. The Ravens have one of the worst offenses in the league, averaging only 279.8 total yards and 14 points. Only the expansion Cleveland Browns average fewer points than the Ravens.

"Why the change? The move to make Tony Banks the starting quarterback is as simple as having to provide an impetus to make something happen offensively," Billick said. "We're two games away from the midseason point, two games away [from] .500. It's a clear-cut challenge; .500 puts you right in the middle of things.

"I think Stoney Case has a future as a quarterback, and he may have a future as the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. Themove is not a direct result of Stoney's play as much as things that are going on around him, whether it's injuries to the offensive line or performance of the receivers. It's not an indictment of Stoney Case."

It's not an endorsement either.

Case completed 62 of 141 passes for 797 yards and three touchdowns, but he threw six interceptions. He was only slightly more efficient than Scott Mitchell, who completed 24 of 56 passes for 236 yards, and was benched after six quarters of the season. Case now becomes No. 2, while Mitchell stays at No. 3.

Banks, 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, has more mobility and arm strength than Mitchell and Case. But he was demoted from No. 2 to No. 3 early in the season because Billick wanted Banks to work more within the structure of the offense and improvise less. Several players also said Billick was not content with Banks' preparation for games, which precipitated trade talks.

Banks hinted at that yesterday. As for free-lancing, that may be what this offense needs because Banks is the only player, other than receiver Jermaine Lewis, who can make a big play any time.

"Right now, his 43 starts and experience in the league is something we need," Billick said. "This team needs something to happen. I don't know if Tony Banks is the answer, but maybe he can make a difference for us. We're too close to being on the verge of a team that can compete for me not to try something.

"If he can indeed progress from when we first got him so he doesn't do the little things that can cost us, maybe he can make a difference."

Banks certainly doesn't lack confidence. He walks with a swagger and knows he has one of the strongest arms in the league. While Billick is intense and emotional on game day, Banks says he is "casual." Somehow, he has to find the line between staying within the offense and improvising.

Banks got the news from Billick around noon yesterday.

"It was good to hear," said Banks, who completed eight of 14 passes for 69 yards against the Chiefs in his first showing of the year. "I have been trying to be patient. This was a new experience for me, but I figured I'd get a shot here or somewhere else. My teammates have confidence in me, and I'm anxious to get in there.

"I definitely have a lot of confidence about the way I throw the football. There aren't too many guys who can throw the football like me, the way I do. I have a lot of things to work on. Obviously, Coach Billick didn't like some of the things I did. I think he wants the quarterback to work within the structure of his offense. He speaks about giving you the freedom to audible; other times he doesn't want you to audible. I have to know where that fine line is. I've always tried to be positive, add a little pep to my step. I've always been kind of casual."

Case was unhappy about the decision, but he wasn't openly upset. He has had only five career starts, and he didn't have the luxury of having a full training camp or minicamp with the team. But he never proved that he was more than a backup. Once defenses started planning for him regularly, he had little success.

"I'm obviously disappointed," Case said. "I don't necessarily agree with it, but it's the coach's decision. This won't affect my confidence at all. I had a bad game, made some bad decisions. I threw three picks, two of them went the other way. It was just a bad game. Life goes on."

That was the attitude of some of the players as well. Running back Errict Rhett said he could play with all three but Banks was certainly the "smoothest."

Receiver Patrick Johnson said: "It's just another switch. It's what has to be done. It really doesn't matter who it is, as long as the ball is getting to the right spot. He's just the next in line."

Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was putting materials in his locker when he was asked about the change. "Whatever," he said.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Buffalo Bills

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Series: First meeting

Tickets: Sold out

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