State of uncertainty

The Baltimore Sun

Time for the weekly football training camp quiz. (Well, not "weekly," just today, actually.) Which prominent coach in the state - the Ravens' John Harbaugh or Maryland's Ralph Friedgen - said the following this week:

"I'm really looking for the guy who's going to be the most consistent. They're all up-and-down ... I'm anxious to see how this plays out. To me, somebody needs to separate himself."

If you guessed Friedgen, you win, and the prize is figuring out which of his three candidates will start at quarterback for him this season. If you guessed Harbaugh, though, it's not as if you really were wrong. Harbaugh has said something similar at various times since the spring, about which of his three quarterbacks will start.

The fact that up in Westminster the competition is down to two doesn't negate the fact that Friedgen and Harbaugh not only find themselves in the same boat, but rowing against almost identical tides. It might seem as though the Terps and Ravens go into every season picking a winner from multiple candidates, but actually, it really is the first time it's happened with both teams since Friedgen arrived seven years ago.

However, that is hardly saying both teams have sailed through, or even into, every season since without serious quarterback issues. That shortcoming has hung around Friedgen for a while now. Harbaugh was unlucky enough to inherit his from Brian Billick.

And that's the true similarity. Two coaches took charge of the primary college and NFL programs in Maryland with sparkling reputations as offensive masterminds in tow - yet with few exceptions either way, the inconsistency and instability at the most important position on the field since then taints their otherwise successful legacies.

So it goes this season. Who gets the Maryland job: Chris Turner, Jordan Steffy or Josh Portis? With the Ravens, does Kyle Boller or Troy Smith keep the seat warm for Joe Flacco?

More striking similarities: Both teams brought in new offensive gurus - James Franklin in College Park, Cam Cameron in Baltimore - to basically undo the damage of previous regimes. (In Maryland's case, that would be Friedgen, who decided that doing both jobs was hindering his ability to do either well.)

Also, final answers in both competitions might come next week, as a result of action on Saturday 20 miles apart. The Terps' second full scrimmage of camp takes place at Byrd Stadium in the late afternoon, while the Ravens' second exhibition game kicks off at M&T; Bank Stadium that night.

Ideally, Friedgen said early this week, he'd like to pick one after that scrimmage, to give everyone plenty of time to begin preparation for the opener against Delaware Aug. 30. Ideally, it has been hinted around the Ravens, Harbaugh would like to name either Smith or Boller before Week 3 of the preseason, after each has started and had a good run with the first team.

Realistically, neither knows what he has to work with yet. Or, more precisely, both know too well. The pluses and minuses of Boller's and Smith's performances, in practice and in games, have been well-documented. The stakes are even better-documented, as are the standards, reiterated by Harbaugh yesterday.

"We want to score a lot of points and we want to secure the football," he said, describing the mind-set he wants every day, including game days. "It's going to be the same with Troy. We're going to be aggressive in everything we do offensively. We're not buttoning down anything, ever."

Not-so-subtle hint: Here's what we're going to do, no excuses. If you do it, you've got a leg up. If Boller had done it, he'd have a leg up.

The Terps don't even have the luxury of tons of live action from all three to gauge. That, plus the fact that no one has seized the job yet, prompted Friedgen to float the idea of rotating quarterbacks during the game.

Harbaugh, of course, has no such option. He will have to use conventional means to field a Ravens team that wins with - even because of - its quarterback, instead of in spite of him.

For what it's worth, he's not alone. Just as Billick did, he has company, even a compatriot, down the road in College Park.

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

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