Ravens bank on reserve Marchibroda chooses backup Zeier to start at QB in home finale

Move allows 'more options'

Testaverde cites 'outside influences'

December 11, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Three days after throwing for more than 300 yards and leading the team to its first victory in six games, third-year player Eric Zeier was named the Ravens' starting quarterback by coach Ted Marchibroda yesterday.

Also yesterday, the Ravens moved reserve center Quentin Neujahr back into a starting role, and former starting center Wally Williams was moved to left guard in place of Ben Cavil.

Zeier, 25, out of the University of Georgia, will start against the Tennessee Oilers (7-7) in the final game to be played at Memorial Stadium in place of 11-year veteran Vinny Testaverde, who started the team's first 13 games until a strained left knee sidelined him last week.

Zeier completed 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens' 31-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Testaverde said the knee no longer bothers him, but Marchibroda decided to go with a hot quarterback.

"We've decided to start Eric for two reasons," Marchibroda said. "The first was that Eric deserved the opportunity to start, and the second is that it gives us more options at the end of the year after we see what Eric can do. He will have played at least two games, and it will tell us if we need to go to Eric early next year or whatever."

Marchibroda said he told Testaverde on Tuesday about his decision and then informed Zeier yesterday morning. Zeier took most of the repetitions with the first team during practice.

"I wasn't losing any sleep over this, but I'm very excited about it," Zeier said. "This is what you work for. You play to be the quarterback that goes out and takes all the snaps.

"But my focus won't change. I'll prepare like I've always prepared, like I'm the starter. I want to put this team in the best position possible to win games. I love this team, love this organization and this is a great city."

Testaverde seemed to handle the demotion well, even though he said there was some frustration because he lost the job while recovering from an injury. He said there were other "outside influences" on Marchibroda's decision, but failed to elaborate except to put partial blame on the print media.

But Testaverde had been struggling since the team jumped out to a 3-1 start. He had played well in the previous six quarters before his injury, but he has not been close to the Pro Bowl form of a year ago.

"Sometimes I think there are outside influences," Testaverde said. "I think I have done nothing but treat the media with courtesy and respect. I think, in some situations, it hasn't been the same way toward me. I think sometimes that has an effect on decisions. I think that's part of it. When you guys write something, whether it's true or untrue, fair or unfair, it sticks in the back of a person's mind."

When asked if owner Art Modell had any input on the decision, Testaverde said he had not spoken with Modell. There has been a difference in opinion about whether Modell or former Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick ordered the benching of Testaverde for Zeier in Zeier's rookie season.

Modell was not available to comment. Marchibroda, meanwhile, disagreed about any media influence.

"I can't make decisions of that nature. I made it for the two reasons I mentioned. I think Eric deserves it," Marchibroda said.

Testaverde said: "Eric came in, he did a good job. Ted has decided to start him, and that's his decision. If I had my way, I'd be in there. Part of the frustration is that I lost the job because of the injury. But I don't want this to be a distraction. It's not a team problem; it's my problem. We'll just have to let this hand play out and see what happens. Everybody has been through this one time or another.

"I think Ted handled this well. Nothing has changed. I feel just as good about Ted today as I felt about him yesterday."

Zeier, though, said there were different circumstances involving him last week as compared with Testaverde in the previous couple of games. Starting slot receiver Jermaine Lewis, the team's top weapon this season, is almost fully recovered from leg injuries that slowed him for nearly seven weeks this season. Starting wide receiver Michael Jackson has been slowed by a back and biceps injury, and his wide-out mate, Derrick Alexander, was in a slump until a recent benching rejuvenated his season last Sunday.

"We have a great team. Obviously, I had more weapons, and it does make a difference," Zeier said.

Zeier said this change will be different from the last time he replaced Testaverde. Zeier lasted four games as a starter in 1995. Overall, his mark as a starter is 2-3.

"I've had some time to be in the league," Zeier said. "I was sent in as a rookie, and I wasn't quite ready. I'm with a team that has some knowledgeable coaches, and I've learned a lot of football."

Few, if any, of the Ravens said they felt affected by the decision.

"Just give me the damn ball," said Jackson, laughing while referring to the title of New York Jets receiver Keyshawn Johnson's book.

When Alexander was asked about the change, Jackson interrupted and said: "He is too concerned about who is starting at wide receiver."

Williams said: "There are only two games left. We're going to try to win them with whoever is back there."

Williams said he had little input in Marchibroda's decision to move him to left guard. Williams started four games at right guard last year.

"Ben has a few more things to learn, so we made the change," Marchibroda said.

"We've got six starters, so this is just another one of the versatile things we can do with our line," Williams said.

Neujahr started the first five games at center this season while Williams was out with an Achilles' tendon injury.

"They may say this is part of the rotation, but I bet there is some evaluation involved," Neujahr said. "We're not going to the playoffs, so they'll be evaluating to see who is coming back next season."

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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