If QBs falter, who'll get blame?

The Baltimore Sun

Imagine if some day, in the not-too-distant future, we wake up here in town to the harsh realization that ... it wasn't Brian Billick's fault after all.

That nightmarish vision could become a reality if Joe Flacco flops - and Kyle Boller and Troy Smith flop right along with him - and the Ravens stay on the same quarterback treadmill Billick had them on for years.

Of course, it's way too early to believe one way or another in what the Ravens have at the historically cursed position. The draft that brought in Flacco, in the first round, was all of one week ago. The Ravens' veterans, including incumbents Boller and Smith, were in their second minicamp of the year over the weekend. Flacco arrives later this week, and that's when the competition - although coach John Harbaugh says that, technically, it's not a competition yet - truly begins.

But from now on, with every snap any of the Ravens' quarterbacks takes, the heat will be turned up on the team's brain trust, the same way it was on Billick. If the Ravens can't get this quarterback thing figured out now, it'll prove that the problem didn't lie completely with his handling of the position.

Or, even worse, that it didn't lie with him at all.

That's hardly feasible, of course. Billick seems to be extremely reluctant to admit it - lately, on local radio and on the NFL Network's draft coverage, he has been pitching the idea that he's taking too much blame for what a mess the position was during his tenure - but he deserves a fair chunk of the blame he has gotten.

One can only hope he's just being colorful as he shows the skills that will come in handy for his Fox game-analyst gig next season - otherwise, he's violating a sacred tenet of head coaching by saying, in fact, the buck doesn't stop here, it stops somewhere else. Either that, or Billick's skin is, to paraphrase the movie Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, wafer-thin. Way thinner than he would ever want to admit.

Yet the exiled coach has a point in that he's not the one who drafted Boller in the first round (although he was the one who started him from Day 1 of his NFL career) and that he pretty much gets no credit for Steve McNair's huge 2006 season, nor any breaks for the injury-wracked mess last season became.

Regardless, the ball is completely in general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh's court now. A week and a half before the draft, Newsome presented himself as a knowledgeable judge of quarterbacks - with the "four traits" of success that he wouldn't elaborate on - and made it clear that he was quite aware of the microscope now fully trained on him.

"There's no additional pressure on me," Newsome said then. "The pressure that I have on myself is that I still have a bitter taste in my mouth about last year."

Removing that taste will depend largely on how well the next quarterback performs. That quarterback will be judged quickly and harshly. Harbaugh and Cam Cameron are molding the offense, and the man entrusted to run it.

The finished product will be judged quickly and harshly - actually, not even the finished product, but the work in progress. Harbaugh already gets asked multiple questions about Smith and Boller every day. This week, questions about Flacco will be mixed in. That will go on not just throughout minicamps, training camp and the season, but every day until the team produces a legitimate winner.

It's all because of the franchise's wretched legacy at quarterback. The nature of the position dictates that everything about it gets exaggerated, so you never really can tell whether it's the team's actual greatest need. You could make that argument here.

Is Flacco, as Newsome proclaimed on draft day, the quarterback of the future, and was he worth spending a first-round pick on, trading up to get and adding on the extra layers of importance entailed by that decision?

Newsome was a genius in obtaining the excess of later picks, but maybe his quarterback was available in those rounds. Or, you can't rule out, next year's draft.

Time will prove whether he's right. But if Newsome is wrong, and the Reign of Error at quarterback continues, then the fingers will point somewhere else for the first time in a long time.

And Billick might be a little less sensitive about how, in his words, "they ran him out of town."


Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

No truth to the rumors that Roger Clemens is bringing in Karl Malone as a character witness. However, R. Kelly turned down the request, not wanting to damage his own reputation.

Former 100-meter world-record holder, and BALCO client, Tim Montgomery was indicted last week on heroin distribution charges. All right, maybe "the clear" isn't the biggest drug threat to youth in American society. Maybe a congressional hearing on that might be in order.

On that topic, here's a reminder of how devastating performance-enhancing drugs have been on track and field and this year's Olympics: Name the current "fastest man in the world." Used to be that he was as recognizable a figure in sports as the world heavyweight champ.

Uh ... who's the world heavyweight champ again?

Never heard anything negative about Tom Crean as a person or coach, but calling the police on one of your players in your office - and no weapons or injuries were involved - might not be much of an aid in your future recruiting.

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