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Billick is making the wrong snap decision

WELL, AT LEAST the percentages are in Ravens coach Brian Billick's favor to get this one right. He was wrong about Scott Mitchell. He was wrong about Stoney Case. And Tony Banks. And Elvis Grbac. And Jeff Blake.

And now he's about to give us rookie quarterback Kyle Boller over veteran Chris Redman. Ready or not, here he comes.

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That's the word that has been leaking out of the Ravens' training complex for about a week now. And since Boller has taken most of the snaps with the first team the past three days in preparation for his second straight preseason start tonight against the New York Giants, it has become apparent that Billick has installed Boller as his starter for the opener in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7.

This has everybody nervous - the players, front office, coaching staff and fans.

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Why?

Because Billick's Achilles' heel since he has been in Baltimore is evaluating talent, especially at the quarterback position. As one league official said recently, "If Brian had to make a choice between John Unitas and Stoney Case, he would have taken Stoney Case."

True.

And if he selects Boller over Redman as expected, Billick will have made the wrong choice in this situation, too, one that could have significant ramifications for a team allegedly ready to contend for a playoff spot.

The same coach who has asked us to take leaps of faith with Mitchell and Grbac is stepping out boldly again. That same coach is about to entrust his offense to a rookie who had one good season in college and completed only 48 percent of his passes in the first two preseason games against defenses composed of second- and third-string players.

Say it ain't so, Brian. Please.

Is this guts, or is he nuts?

Joe Theismann, an ESPN analyst and former Washington Redskins quarterback, has been a diehard Billick and Ravens supporter. But he says it should be Redman.

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"Chris Redman, in my opinion, should start for the Baltimore Ravens," Theismann said. "I think the fact that he got hurt last year set him back a little bit. But still, he got a year under his belt. He has all the tools and I think the Baltimore Ravens are set for the future with really two fine quarterbacks."

First of all, though, let's remember that we're not talking about Dan Marino vs. John Elway. The Pep Boys have more notoriety than Boller, Redman and No. 3 quarterback Anthony Wright.

Maybe Redman, a fourth-year player, hasn't added any distance from Boller in the preseason, but he does run the offense better. He has more poise. His body doesn't slouch as much as Boller's after mistakes. It's all evident unless you want to look the other way.

Right now, Redman is the team's best chance to win the first two games against rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the sorry AFC North. Boller should be wearing a baseball cap backward and carrying a clipboard.

But Billick sees things differently with his quarterbacks. It has been that way since he came to Baltimore. Everyone else wanted Randall Cunningham over Grbac late in the 2001 season, and we got Grbac. General manager Ozzie Newsome wanted Byron Leftwich in the college draft in April, but Billick wanted Boller.

It's time to take off the blinders.

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Great arm strength doesn't make you a good quarterback. Just look at the tape from the Washington game last week when Boller was making his first start. It was obvious he was nervous. His knees buckled more than Joe Frazier in his fight with George Foreman.

The kid is going to be in awe of Heinz Field and all those screaming lunatics.

To a certain extent, you understand Billick's preference. The best way to beat Pittsburgh is to throw on them early, get a lead and make the Steelers play catch-up. Boller is more agile than Redman. He has a stronger arm. With that combination, he has more big-play ability for an offense that lacks a great go-to wide receiver and a sufficient right side of the offensive line.

But this is a team that has an outstanding defense. The past three Super Bowl champions, including the Ravens, have won with great defenses and average quarterbacks (see Redman).

"Chris Redman has a chance to go out there and do things like a Chad Pennington does for the New York Jets," Theismann said.

But apparently there is more to this decision than who performed better in training camp and preseason. One top team official said Billick informed several of his assistant coaches that Boller was going to be the starter shortly after he was drafted.

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Billick is enamored of the kid. He glows as bright as Rudolph's nose when you mention Boller's name. Pom-poms and a big white sweater with K.B. on the front can't be too far behind.

They are very much alike. Both are both high-energy. Both are natural leaders, and if there is one major thing (among many others) missing from the Ravens' offense, it's players with leadership ability.

And both like to go vertical with those hang 'em-high, jump ball-type passes, the No. 1 play in the Ravens' erratic offense.

But there is a bigger picture. If Boller is selected, what does this do to Redman's confidence? Wouldn't it have been better to bring Boller off the bench than Redman? Because of injuries, one quarterback rarely plays the entire season.

But history haunts Billick. He chose not to re-sign a Super Bowl-winning quarterback named Trent Dilfer for Grbac.

When the Grbac deal went sour after one year, the Ravens looked bad. The organization would look just as bad if the Ravens won with Redman, or worse yet, advanced to the playoffs.

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Or, worse yet, won a Super Bowl.

History has not been kind to starting rookie quarterbacks. They usually start for rebuilding teams. The Ravens were supposed to be past that stage, way ahead of the learning curve. It's almost as if the Ravens are willing to mortgage a possible playoff spot to allow Boller to mature.

If that happens, it would be a great disservice to the fans and to the team's other players. Boller has all the tools to be the quarterback of the future, but that shouldn't be forced on him or the team.

This is the kind of decision that could haunt Billick for years. It's a gamble, one that he wants to take. Of course, if it works out, he'll be the first to let everyone know.

And if it does, we can always point out that it took him five years and nine quarterbacks. It's about time.


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