Snap decision or not, make Zeier the man

December 08, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The Ravens still don't have a quarterback controversy.

If you took a vote right now, the results would be more lopsided than one of those old Soviet elections.

"Zei-er Zei-er!" the fans at Memorial Stadium chanted yesterday during the Ravens' 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

And Eric Zeier it must be.

If Vinny Testaverde starts the final game at Memorial Stadium, it will be the modern equivalent of a Christian being fed to the lions at the Roman Colosseum.

Coach Ted Marchibroda said he will make his decision Wednesday, but he's delaying this only out of respect to Testaverde, a class act who need not be embarrassed.

What more could Marchibroda possibly want? Zeier threw for 302 yards yesterday, leading the Ravens to their first home win since Sept. 7.

Still, Marchibroda isn't getting carried away, and neither should anyone else.

Those who wish to anoint Zeier as the next Unitas should remember that the Seahawks make even the Ravens look like a well-oiled machine.

There still isn't enough evidence to suggest that Zeier is the long-term solution. But if he played well in the final two games, at least he would become an option.

Make no mistake, the Ravens still need to draft a young quarterback. Indeed, what would be so terrible about staging an open competition next summer?

Let the rookie fight it out with Zeier and Testaverde in training camp. And then go with the best player.

Marchibroda wants more competition for jobs. Suddenly, he has the chance to create it at his most important position.

Why wouldn't he start Zeier against Tennessee?

"I really don't know," Marchibroda said. "And I don't know why I would at this point."

Ted, Ted, Ted.

"Bench Vinny Forever," was the advice of one sign at the stadium.

That might be the ultimate outcome, but Marchibroda joked that if he let the fans influence his thinking, he'd soon be joining them in the stands.

Simply put, he doesn't need to make an immediate decision.

The Ravens might need Testaverde if Zeier gets hurt in practice. There's no reason to disturb the incumbent's fragile psyche until it's absolutely necessary.

The fans who lost hope during the Ravens' 1-7-1 collapse can wait another two days for Marchibroda, and so can Zeier.

Remember, Marchibroda held off until Thursday before naming Zeier the replacement for Testaverde, who had injured his knee against Jacksonville.

"My position is to help the team however I can, whatever position I'm in," Zeier said yesterday. "It wasn't my decision then. It's not my decision now."

True enough, but he certainly deserves to start after completing 17 of 28 passes yesterday and rallying the Ravens from a 24-17 third-quarter deficit.

His first half was a struggle marked by poor field position, a sack that resulted in a safety and a fumbled snap the Seahawks

returned for a 42-yard touchdown -- "my fault," center Wally Williams said.

The Ravens also lost two other fumbles, but Zeier rebounded with a second half that included a 92-yard completion to Derrick Alexander -- the longest in the NFL this season -- and a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis.

Granted, he produced only 17 of the Ravens' 31 points, with Lewis returning two punts for touchdowns. But Matt Stover missed two field-goal tries and Eric Green and Michael Jackson both dropped potential touchdown passes.

Marchibroda seemed most impressed that Zeier displayed the arm strength to complete passes through the wind on out patterns.

Testaverde, too, offered praise.

"Obviously, he's been paying attention in the meetings," Testaverde told The Sun's Gary Lambrecht, smiling.

"He stepped up and played well. Like I've said all along, Eric is going to be a great quarterback someday. Every day, you're in competition, especially with a kid who has a lot of ability like Eric."

Other Ravens privately believe there is little difference between Zeier and Testaverde. As Marchibroda warned last week, it's garbage time now.

The Seahawks played yesterday without the injured Shawn Springs and Bennie Blades, their two best defensive backs.

The Oilers laid down in Cincinnati on Thursday, and might do the same thing Sunday. The Ravens' finale against the Bengals also will mean little.

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

Perhaps not, but the Ravens might as well find out.

They should incorporate more rollouts into their game plan -- the 6-foot-1 Zeier is 4 inches shorter than Testaverde, and not a prototype drop-back passer.

Indeed, he has been the victim of eight of the 28 sacks allowed by the Ravens, despite playing the approximate equivalent of only two games.

Zeier got rid of the ball sooner yesterday. He also picked up blitzes better, as evidenced by his read on the touchdown to Lewis.

He needs to make better use of the clock -- the Ravens burned their final second-half timeout early in the fourth quarter.

But as Zeier put it, "The more opportunities you get, the more snaps you take, the more comfortable you're going to feel."

Which is the whole point.

Just as a fire requires oxygen, a quarterback controversy requires a divided city. But for once, the opinion in Baltimore is virtually unanimous.

No one wants to see more of Vinny Testaverde.

Everyone wants to see more of Eric Zeier.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Oilers

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11 (subject to blackout rule)/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM) Line: Pick

Tickets: 4,000 remain

Series: Oilers lead 2-1

Last meeting: Ravens won, 36-10, on Sept. 21 in Memphis

Pub Date: 12/08/97

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