It's wide-open QB field

The Baltimore Sun

A day after the retirement of Steve McNair, the Ravens took the practice field not knowing who their starting quarterback is going to be.

Will it be the more experienced Kyle Boller? Will it be intriguing prospect Troy Smith? Or will it be someone not even on the roster right now?

Ravens coach John Harbaugh praised the work of Boller and Smith at this week's minicamp, but he didn't rule out the possibility of a rookie draft pick starting at quarterback this season.

"It'll be tough for anybody to come in and win a job against [Boller and Smith]," Harbaugh said after today's minicamp practice. "Those two guys are solid quarterbacks and they can both play. But whoever we draft is going to be a real good quarterback, too. So, it's going to be a competition. We're going to roll the balls out and let them fight for the job."

The Ravens likely will add a quarterback in the NFL draft next weekend. They could take Boston College's Matt Ryan in the first round or select Delaware's Joe Flacco, Louisville's Brian Brohm or Michigan's Chad Henne in the second round.

Even with the quarterback drama surrounding the team, Boller and Smith seem more focused on absorbing the new offense than competing for the job.

Harbaugh said he could see progress by both quarterbacks from the first day of minicamp to the next in terms of their demeanor in the huddle and body language on the field.

"They're hungry, and they're guys who feel like they got something to prove," Harbaugh said. "They're getting confident making the calls now. These two guys are leaders."

Boller, 26, a former first-round pick of the Ravens, has failed to hold down the starting job because of his inconsistency.

There are times when he shows flashes of being a legitimate NFL quarterback with his size, arm strength and mobility. But he has completed just 56.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 45 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. His record as a starter is 18-21 and his career quarterback rating is 71.9.

Asked whether he feels like the unquestioned leader now that McNair is retired, Boller said: "Not really. I am just trying to earn a spot on the roster, compete and do everything I can to be the starting quarterback on this team. The best guy is going to be out there on the field."

Smith, 23, a fifth-round pick from a year ago, remains an unknown commodity.

The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner showed surprising poise as a rookie in starting the final two games last season. But there are still questions about his accuracy (52.6 percent completion rate last season) and his height (6 feet).

"I have to step up and be Troy Smith and be the only Troy Smith that I know," Smith said. "That's being an accountable guy and be a leader."

With McNair as the starter, the Ravens could hold out hope of repeating what they did in 2006, when they won a franchise-best 13 games in the regular season and reached the divisional playoffs.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this month that the team could get to the playoffs if McNair came back healthy.

Now, with McNair gone, do the expectations change for the Ravens?

"Our goal is one thing only - that's to win a Super Bowl," receiver Derrick Mason said. "It can't change because of one guy. If you think the retirement of Steve changes that goal, something is wrong with you. We have a lot of really, really great players on this team. I guarantee you that we can get to the Super Bowl if we work on one accord."

If the Ravens are unable to draft a quarterback in the first two rounds, Boller and Smith are still expected to receive additional competition.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said his staff would look at available free-agent quarterbacks after the draft.

The thin group of available veteran quarterbacks include Byron Leftwich, Daunte Culpepper, Kelly Holcomb and Aaron Brooks.

"Right now, we're focusing on the draft," Newsome said. "And [to] all those [agents of free-agent quarterbacks] who are going to be calling me, be patient. I'll get back to you probably in about two weeks."


A 2008 Ravens schedule, with Sun reporter Jamison Hensley's predictions, to clip out for your fridge.

We begin our all-out blitz of draft coverage with a look at the success the Ravens have had when they have a top-10 pick and why drafting a quarterback has been so hit-or-miss over the years.

David Steele: McNair a role model to young quarterbacks.

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