Europe could help put Olson on Ravens' map

The Baltimore Sun

While many of the Ravens players were enjoying their offseason, Drew Olson had to endure language barriers, strange food and indifferent attitudes as he played football for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europa.

And Olson wouldn't have had it any other way.

"It was a good experience," he recalled. "It was good to kind of bring the game to Europe and show the people what one of the biggest games over here is like. It was definitely different playing in a setting where, to the people, it was just foreign to them. And we were foreign to them, also. It was fun on a personal level to just get out there and play ball again and be a starter and get that experience."

While becoming a starter in the NFL is the ultimate objective, Olson is embroiled in a battle that may be lesser in stature, but not in significance to his budding career.

Olson is competing with former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith for the No. 3 quarterback position behind starter Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller.

For the majority of training camp, it appeared Smith held a slight edge over Olson, as Smith was the team's fifth-round pick in April (Olson was signed as an undrafted rookie) and seemed to be getting more reps.

That perception may have changed after the Ravens' 29-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night. Playing the entire fourth quarter, Olson completed seven of nine passes for 84 yards, threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain and led two more scoring drives that culminated in Matt Stover field goals.

Olson's passer rating of 142.6 was the highest of all four quarterbacks, even topping McNair's 142.2.

Meanwhile, Smith went 3-for-11 for 34 yards and at times missed his receivers badly.

"He orchestrated the game very well," coach Brian Billick said of Olson after the game. "He did a couple of really nice things in the end."

Some of that success could be attributed to Olson's stay in Europe. Although he struggled adapting to a new culture ("as far as the Dutch food, I don't know how much of a fan I was of that"), Olson completed 54.6 percent (154 of 282) of his passes for 1,724 yards and threw 11 touchdowns against 11 interceptions in 10 games for Amsterdam.

Olson said his approach with the Admirals differed greatly from his brief tenure with the Ravens.

"I gambled a lot on the field with certain throws, but that's the place to do it," he said. "You go over there and see what you can do and see all of these different things about your game. You test yourself. I liked doing that. ... I learned a lot about my game in terms of what I can do. There are different throws that I can't force. So I have to be careful with those and be smarter on those terms."

Rookie wide receiver Matt Willis played with Olson at UCLA, and he said he was amazed at the changes he saw in Olson.

"When I first saw him, he looked a lot bigger," Willis said. "He's always had a strong arm. ... He's definitely throwing the ball to spots now. He puts it right there. He throws a catchable ball every time."

But while Olson was learning in Europe, the Ravens opted to take Smith from Ohio State. Afterward, many experts speculated that Smith - not Olson, who spent his rookie season last year on the practice squad - would be groomed as the franchise's quarterback of the future.

If Olson was angered by the Ravens' decision, he has yet to display it.

"I knew they'd draft somebody. So it was definitely not a surprise or a shock or anything like that," he said. "That's the way it goes. We're fighting for our jobs. You come into this game expecting competition in every camp."

The verdict between Olson and Smith likely won't come down until the day of final cuts. Despite his play Monday night and his experience, Olson said he intends to keep making his case for the No. 3 role.

"Coming in is great because it's relaxing and you know what to expect, what practice is like," he said. "So I guess experience plays a role somehow, somewhere, but it's still about what we do on the field and how we play."

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