Future renders QB question incomplete

December 01, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Ravens don't have a quarterback controversy.

Why?

Because neither Vinny Testaverde nor Eric Zeier is their quarterback of the future.

If coach Ted Marchibroda were so high on Zeier, he would start him Sunday against Seattle, regardless of the condition of Testaverde's knee.

But Marchibroda plans nothing of the sort, even though Jonathan Ogden's leg is all that prevented Zeier from forcing overtime in yesterday's 29-27 loss to Jacksonville.

"You're going to pass judgment on one game?" Marchibroda asked reporters in his post-game news conference.

No, Ted, but three more might suffice.

"We know what Eric can do," Marchibroda said.

Well, all Zeier did yesterday was lead the Ravens to two fourth-quarter touchdowns after they trailed 29-14 with eight minutes remaining.

Marchibroda might think he knows everything there is to know about Zeier, but the fans who booed Testaverde last week are going to want to see more.

"I understand that," Marchibroda said. "But it's sort of a twofold thing. I'm not afraid to give him a shot. But by the same token, is it a shot?

"A shot is where everything is on the line. Everything is on the line to start the season. I don't know that this would make him ready to start next season."

And if the Ravens wanted Zeier to start next season, they probably would have made him their Jake Plummer or Bobby Hoying by now.

That hasn't happened.

It isn't going to happen.

The Ravens want to go into their new stadium with better than Testaverde or Zeier.

They need to excite the community. They need to sell permanent seat licenses. And they need to win games, which would accomplish both of the above.

The answer is Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf, not Testaverde or Zeier.

The Ravens probably wouldn't succeed in an attempt to trade up in the draft -- Indianapolis and Chicago, the teams currently projected to pick 1-2, both need quarterbacks.

But worst comes to worst, they could pick a lesser quarterback in a lower round and take their chances.

Whatever happens, they're not going to abandon Testaverde at this point, not when they believe he gives them a better chance to win than Zeier.

They're trying to build toward next season, and until they make a move, Testaverde will be their quarterback in 1998.

Does Marchibroda lack faith in Zeier?

The coach shook his head no.

"Eric in my mind is better than what I anticipated when I came here," Marchibroda said. "He's a much more accurate thrower than I thought.

"I just don't think you can pass judgment on one game, that's all."

Marchibroda noted that Zeier's only three appearances were in difficult spots -- at San Francisco, at Pittsburgh, at Jacksonville.

But he's not willing to start him at home in an insignificant December game against Seattle.

Get the message?

At least Marchibroda isn't portraying Zeier as a threat to start when the former Georgia star might not even be a quality backup.

The extent of Testaverde's knee injury will be determined today. He said he could have played the second half if necessary, and expects to be ready for Sunday.

Is he feeling competition from Zeier?

Testaverde smiled.

"No comment," he said.

Zeier, too, was diplomatic.

"Obviously, as a competitor, I want to play," Zeier said. "But my No. 1 priority is to this football team.

"I'll do everything in my power to help this football team. I'll keep working, keep striving to get better.

"I'm not here to start controversy. I'm here to win football games."

And he came closer than anyone could have expected yesterday after replacing Testaverde.

Testaverde didn't play badly, completing 11 of 17 passes for 101 yards and one touchdown. He was removed because of injury, not ineffectiveness.

Zeier, meanwhile, was sacked on three of his first five plays in the third quarter, and barely escaped a sack on another.

The Ravens could have quit with Testaverde out and their secondary depleted by injury. But in the final period, they outscored the Jaguars 13-3.

Working out of the no-huddle offense, Zeier produced as many fourth-quarter touchdowns as Testaverde had the previous eight weeks.

Yes, the biggest play on the first drive was a 32-yard pass-interference penalty. But on the second drive, Zeier completed five of seven passes for 49 yards.

He started with a 23-yard completion to Michael Jackson down the right sideline. He also connected with Jackson on fourth-and-two at the Jaguars' 27, and scrambled to find Eric Green for a 7-yard score after the tight end had dropped a touchdown pass on the previous play.

Then came his failed quarterback draw on the two-point conversion.

Just as Cinderella had her glass slipper, Zeier had Ogden's big foot.

The Ravens probably would have lost even if they had forced overtime. But what if they had won? How could Marchibroda have stuck with Testaverde then?

Interesting questions, but irrelevant.

The Ravens staged their comeback without Testaverde, Bam Morris and Derrick Alexander, which was reason enough to be encouraged about the future.

A quarterback controversy?

One step at a time, folks.

First, you need a quarterback.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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