Future shouldn't be now

The Baltimore Sun

The Joe Flacco era is about to begin in Baltimore, but it's not the way the Ravens wanted it to work out.

When a team drafts a quarterback in the first round, it would prefer him to beat out the other candidates for the No. 1 position, not win by default.

Flacco is the Ravens' starting quarterback Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals because Kyle Boller's shoulder is hurt and Troy Smith hasn't recovered from a tonsil infection.

Maybe it's destiny because it was inevitable that Flacco would become the starter, especially after he agreed to a $30 million contract in July.

But you can tell that first-year head coach John Harbaugh is nervous.

In sports, a lot of people believe you learn from your mistakes. I disagree. I think you learn by watching other people make mistakes, and it's certainly less painful.

The Ravens really don't want to start Flacco.

Ideally, it would have been perfect to have him sit behind Boller and Smith before taking his place as the starter. Flacco didn't have to wait a year or two, but a start near midseason would have been perfect. It would have given the Ravens' young offensive line time to gain some rhythm and experience.

But the Ravens had no other choice.

"It wouldn't be realistic to have one of those two guys [Boller or Smith] as a starter for sure," Harbaugh said. "If they can back up, I think that would be an upset."

Flacco has a huge upside. The more he plays, the better he looks. In the past three weeks, he has looked more comfortable with the pace of the game. He has a strong arm and appears to have a better grasp of the offense.

But as of last week, he still couldn't make it through a progression. Once his primary receiver is covered, he panics to find his secondary receiver. Teams are going to throw all kinds of defenses and blitzes at Flacco.

The lack of pass protection is a major concern. Tim Couch never recovered from the beating he took in Cleveland. David Carr was abused as a rookie in Houston. Peyton Manning of Indianapolis and Troy Aikman of Dallas survived beatings in their rookie seasons and went on to win Super Bowls.

Some survived; others, like Boller, didn't. You're rolling the dice.

Area fans have long waited for a quarterback to emerge with the Ravens. This city has been a haven for nomad quarterbacks throughout the years, but Baltimore can grow old with Flacco, if he can remain upright.

Flacco didn't get a ringing endorsement from Harbaugh yesterday. It was just opportunity thrown his way.

"Everybody gets an opportunity, and you take it and run with it," Harbaugh said. "You can definitely envision a scenario where it could be Joe's job through the year. You can envision a scenario where it's Kyle's job again. You can envision that it's Troy's job, or even the new quarterback."

What?

Yes, the Ravens are in such dire need of a quarterback that they worked out three yesterday: Chris Simms, Todd Bouman and Joey Harrington.

"If anyone wrote this in a movie script, no one would believe it," Harbaugh said.

Actually, we all knew the script. It just unfolded faster than anyone expected. We all knew what Boller could do. In his six years here, he has been the big tease. On some days, he looks great. But sometime during the game, he is going to make the costly, boneheaded mistake.

It's highly likely that his career here in Baltimore ended with that thunderous hit he took against the Minnesota Vikings in preseason game No. 2.

Smith lost his major opportunity in preseason game No. 3 when he came down with the illness. Most thought he would return in several days, but Smith didn't practice yesterday.

As he sat on his stool outside his locker answering questions from reporters, he looked like he had lost 15 to 25 pounds. His jaws had sunken in.

He appeared to be in high spirits and was more content in being with the guys again yesterday instead of providing answers.

The Ravens had a few days to entertain bringing in another quarterback before naming Flacco the starter. But deep down inside, they know they are not going far this season. When Boller and Smith were not available, they figured some of the alternatives were not much better than Flacco, so they might as well give him some on-the-job training.

Let's just hope he survives.

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