We should've seen it coming

The Baltimore Sun

In hindsight, we were all out of our minds to think this quarterback thing would be resolved by now, weren't we?

To believe that was to take a wild leap of imagination, and an even wilder leap of faith - in Kyle Boller and Troy Smith, in Cam Cameron and in John Harbaugh. There might be a best man for the Ravens' starting job, but it's obvious now that knowing who it is after two preseason games was a stretch, at best, and delusional at worst.

The Ravens get points for trying. They also get points for never really saying, out loud or for the record, that they were following the usual NFL habit of having such matters settled by the next-to-last preseason game, the last lengthy work by the starters before they're put in bubble wrap for the final.

That was for all of us to speculate. However, reality tends to follow its own calendar. Same for Harbaugh, who is starting Smith on Saturday in St. Louis but is not committing to him for the season opener. As for this week's game - a full dress rehearsal? Sorry. That has been postponed. Maybe canceled.

"That would be, in my mind, an artificial timetable," Harbaugh said yesterday about the idea that the quarterbacks needed to have everything down by now. "You can say it's going to click on this date, [but] it's going to click when it's going to click."

That could be well into the regular season, for all we know, and if it clicks for the quarterback holding the clipboard at the time, that might mean he then gets the promotion and the starter the demotion.

In other words, the starter of the season opener might not necessarily be the starter later in the year.

A lot of people have been envisioning a lot of scenarios since Harbaugh took over. This one, though - that two weeks before the games begin to count, no true starter has emerged - wasn't on very many minds.

Likely not Harbaugh's, but he appears to have been prepared for all contingencies. "I don't think I really had any expectation about it," he said. "I hate to say, 'It is what it is,' because that's an old cliche, but it kind of is."

That drew a chuckle from the onlookers, who have that phrase embedded in their skulls from a previous regime. It was funnier than Harbaugh seemed to realize. In fact, he unwittingly might have unveiled a deeper truth that could be hard to face.

The Ravens didn't become the 5-11 team of last season overnight, nor a team increasingly predicted to struggle equally this season. Their quarterback situation didn't just turn to mush that fast. Neither did the offense. No one ever should have assumed that Smith or Boller would have, or could have, emerged as the clear-cut choice by now.

This, folks, is a long-term project. That can't taste good to the veterans hoping for one last run or to the fans who remember not just the Super Bowl, but also the 13-3 outburst of two seasons ago. But it's reality. Getting the offense right, and the right quarterback for it, will take - has taken - longer than preseason Week 3 of the Harbaugh Era, Year 1.

It might be Harbaugh's way of letting us in on what he probably knew the day he walked into the Castle for his interview in January, or at least figured out soon after his introductory news conference.

"Guys are going to be learning the offense for years to come, in reality," he said. "From a teaching perspective, that's the way you've got to look at it. We'll game-plan the stuff they know the best and run the stuff we master the most, but they're not going to be with this offense the way we want them for a while yet."

So this isn't a disaster - any more than it was the day everybody realized that these were the choices for starter all those months ago. With the quarterbacks specifically and the offense in general, it wasn't meant to be quite yet.

To borrow the official phrase of Ravens head coaches past and present, it is what it is.


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

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