Mike Preston: Add quarterback position to Ravens' list of offseason concerns

Admit it, for the longest time, you haven't worried about the Ravens' quarterback position. You will now.

Ravens Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda showered quickly and pulled his shirt on. When asked about quarterback Joe Flacco's injury, he muttered a few words and walked away, shaking his head.

About a minute later, tight end Dennis Pitta walked across the locker room and could barely talk when he was asked about the knee ligament damage Flacco suffered Sunday, ending Flacco's season.

Pitta's voice started to quiver, and Yanda could only say this was a "terrible day, and there is nothing else I can say right now."

First, there was outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and then star receiver Steve Smith Sr. Running back Justin Forsett broke his right arm earlier in the game Sunday, and now Flacco.

The iron man is gone.

"He is an iron man. I told the team he's an absolute iron man, warrior type player out there, and now it's his turn," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have to step up and rally up for him, just like he has done so many times for so many others."

The Ravens will rally for Flacco, and they need to because Harbaugh is walking the fine line of possibly losing control of this team, which played so poorly, but still managed a win against the Rams on Sunday.

But with Flacco going down, the Ravens will need to huddle soon to discuss the future of this franchise. There is no sense of urgency at this point, even though the team needs a No. 2 quarterback behind Matt Schaub, who will replace Flacco.

The Ravens were ineffective on offense with Flacco and will remain that way without him. They aren't going to the postseason, so there is time to come up with a game plan.

But Flacco's injury could change their course in the NFL draft or in free agency. With Flacco, you always got the sense that it was only a matter of time before he got hurt because he has been so durable throughout his eight-year career.

So much, in fact, that we took him for granted. He had the heart of a champion but the flexibility of a Gumby doll, being able to absorb wicked shots, but always bouncing back.

He put the Ravens in a comfort zone and gave this franchise something it had never had in the previous 13 years: a top quarterback.

Flacco still might be one, but there is some uncertainty now. Regardless of the advances in medical technology, few can predict how a player will respond to such an injury. When asked after the game, even he didn't know if he would be ready for training camp, which will start in late July or early August next year.

"I have no idea at this point," said Flacco, who will turn 31 in January. "We just have to see what we can do and get back as soon as possible, but I have no idea."

It will make for an interesting offseason. Before the Ravens selected Flacco in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft, they had a poor history in selecting quarterbacks with failures such as Jon Stark, Chris Redman, Wes Pate, Josh Harris, Derek Anderson and Troy Smith.

And, of course, there was Kyle Boller, a first round pick in 2003 out of California.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has had just as poor of a record with free-agent quarterbacks, bringing in disappointments such as Jim Harbaugh, Tony Banks, Stoney Case and Scott Mitchell.

"I've been really fortunate. I'm really proud of the fact that I was able to go that long," Flacco said. "I wanted to go my whole career without missing anything. It's just the nature of the game. It happens. I just have to go out there, rehab, get back and be stronger."

So, depending on the Ravens won-loss record, do they shift from possibly drafting a pass rusher, receiver or cornerback in the first round, or do they select a quarterback as an insurance policy for Flacco?

The Ravens have yet to admit it, but they were hampered by the salary cap in the offseason, which didn't allow them to pursue some big-name free agents. They were expected to negotiate a new contract with Flacco this offseason to free up some money.

Flacco certainly wanted to use any success this season as a bargaining chip in the negotiations, like he did after Super Bowl XLVII. That might change now.

As for the rest of the season, Flacco's loss won't be significant. Until the fourth quarter, his performance was uninspiring. He finished by completing 27 of 44 passes for 299 yards, but he also threw two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 70.2. His mechanics were poor again.

He seemed frustrated on several occasions and spent a lot of time sitting alone on the bench. To be honest, he might feel a little relieved now. The offense won't change much, because it can't. The Ravens still won't have any playmakers on offense, so it will be dink-and-dunk filled with slant-ins, quick screens and hitches.

It will fit Schaub, who has lost a lot off his fastball during the past couple of years. Plus, the way this season was going, Flacco and Schaub were — and will be — at risk.

The Ravens were without two starting offensive linemen to start the game against the Rams because of injuries to center Jeremy Zuttah and guard Kelechi Osemele, and left tackle Eugene Monroe tapped out in the third quarter with shoulder pain. Schaub has to absorb the pain now.

But the Ravens are in a bind. Newsome hasn't had a good draft in recent years, and they have holes to fill at cornerback, receiver, offensive tackle and they need a pass rusher.

And after Sunday, quarterback might be on the list now, too.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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