Ravens need to consider QB options

November 23, 1997|By John Eisenberg

Last week, the Ravens faced the Eagles' Bobby Hoying, a second-year quarterback who completed 26 of 38 passes in his first pro start.

This week, they're facing the Cardinals' Jake Plummer, a rookie who has already thrown for almost 1,000 yards.

Next week, it's the Jaguars' Mark Brunell, one of the NFL's best quarterbacks -- at age 27.

Suddenly, the Ravens are surrounded by promising, young quarterbacks, as numerous teams make the tough, important and inevitable transition to the next generation.

Kordell Stewart, Danny Kanell, Steve McNair, Brad Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins and Tony Banks are just some of the young quarterbacks in various stages of establishing themselves.

Meanwhile, the Ravens keep on keeping on with Vinny Testaverde, who, at 34, has recorded one playoff victory in 11 seasons and has taken a step backward this season after his Pro Bowl triumph of a year ago.

In other words, the Ravens' decision-makers need to start thinking harder about where they are at quarterback, and, more importantly, where they're going.

Ravens owner Art Modell said last week that his team is in a three-year building plan, which is pretty interesting considering that he had said before that it was a two-year plan. (Remember the pledge to have an "elite" team by the time the new stadium opened?)

Oh, well, building plans come and building plans go, but the point is that it's time for the Ravens to ask if Testaverde is the right guy to build around.

And if not, well, they need to do something about it.

It seemed he was the right guy a year ago, when he threw for 4,177 yards and 33 touchdowns during a 4-12 season. The Ravens were so convinced of his future that they restructured his contract into a four-year, $19 million deal.

He hasn't played as well this season, with a much lower ratio of touchdown passes (17) to interceptions (15), and fewer big plays.

He isn't clicking with receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander, he is making a lot of mistakes (19 turnovers in 11 games) and lately he seems to have lost the confidence he developed a year ago.

Anyone who knows him wants him to succeed because he's a stand-up guy who takes the heat every week and he's a family man with his priorities firmly in order, but, alas, this isn't about being a good guy.

This is about the Ravens being 8-18-1 under his stewardship, with some of his teammates starting to wonder when he's going to stop making big-play mistakes.

You can't blame him for all of the Ravens' ills, but you can blame him for some, maybe more than some, and that's the issue.

A few wins would eliminate the grumbling, of course, and Testaverde certainly has the talent to lead a winning streak, but he's struggling in a big way right now, so big that the Ravens could get away with considering a younger alternative, at least as an experiment.

If the Eagles are doing it, the Cardinals are doing it and other teams are doing it, the Ravens certainly could do it. Probably should do it.

But how?

Eric Zeier, Testaverde's backup, is a third-year pro who had a huge college career at Georgia, but he has barely survived his few chances to play in the NFL. He threw four touchdown passes and nine interceptions in four starts in Cleveland in 1995, and he is 12-for-28 backing up Testaverde here.

No, he hasn't had a real, week-to-prepare chance since he was an overmatched rookie, and he certainly deserves a start or two before any final judgments are made, but he hasn't come close to proving he deserves to be handed the keys to the offense.

That leaves rookie third-teamer Wally Richardson, a seventh-round draft pick from Penn State, who hasn't taken a snap.

In other words, the Ravens could stand to find another alternative to Testaverde.

That's easier said than done, of course. The free-agent options are few. Jaguars backup Rob Johnson is considered to be the league's best starter-in-waiting, but he's under contract and is still unproven, a huge gamble if his price is high.

That leaves the draft, which is the best way to add young talent at any position. This year's crop could be strong at quarterback, led by Tennessee's Peyton Manning and possibly Washington State's Ryan Leaf and Kentucky's Tim Couch, among others.

Alas, the Ravens probably will win enough games to fall out of the top 10, blowing any shot at a high-priced rookie star.

That leaves them with one option: Pick a second-tier prospect in the second or third round, then sit back and hope he develops.

Kanell was a fourth-round pick, Hoying was a third-rounder and Plummer and Stewart were second-rounders, so it's a viable option.

The Browns took Zeier in the third round in 1995, which was the right idea, but they probably need to take the same route again.

There are plenty of options out there, some well-known, some unknown.

It's time for the Ravens to do their homework and target one.

They need a young quarterback.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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