Richardson provides unexpected shot in arm

Ravens 3rd-string QB impressive vs. Eagles

August 17, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Wally Richardson has spent the bulk of his young pro football career feeling like an absentee quarterback.

After becoming a seventh-round draft pick of the Ravens in 1997, Richardson never took a live snap, not even in the preseason, which is regarded as the essential grooming phase for third-string passers.

Richardson's next stop was the World League with the England Monarchs in the spring of 1998. Oops. He threw an interception in his first half of action, got benched and didn't see daylight until five weeks later.

In his second year with the Ravens, Richardson got a small taste of playing time in the preseason, but he basically disappeared until the final game, which he entered late in the second half against the Detroit Lions. He proceeded to complete the first and only pass of his career.

All of which made Richardson's first preseason appearance in last week's 10-7 victory over Philadelphia feel like sweet validation. In a little more than a quarter's work, all the third-year player did was conduct the hurry-up offense by driving the Ravens into position for the game-winning field goal.

"Contrary to popular belief, I am a quarterback," Richardson said. "The biggest thing for me was going out there [in Philadelphia] and knowing what I was doing. I was really comfortable, and that makes the biggest difference in the world. It feels great to get a chance to play."

With that performance, Richardson basically ended his training camp competition with rookie free agent Jason Maas, whom the Ravens waived yesterday. By today, Richardson could be competing with veteran Stoney Case, who was cut by Indianapolis and is close to agreeing to terms with the Ravens.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said he was surprised by how well Richardson performed in the Eagles game, which came six days after Richardson impressed in an intrasquad scrimmage. He has never been known as an exceptional practice player.

"Wally is showing us he has a grasp of the offense. He's had all the practice in the world. The real test for him is game playing," Billick said. "I'm pleased and pleasantly surprised by the way Wally is playing. He's a little more instinctive than I saw in the minicamps."

Richardson, 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, has waited patiently for the chance. When he followed up a superb junior year at Penn State in 1995 (2,198 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions) with a subpar senior season, his draft-day stock dropped to the bottom of the class. Then he went through his first NFL preseason and regular season without taking a snap.

Richardson figured to gain precious experience in Europe over a 10-game schedule. But he lost his starting job after a shaky first half in the opener. He ended up completing just 19 of 43 passes, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Then he barely saw action with the Ravens last preseason, before finishing the regular season by taking a grand total of six snaps.

"It's been one big learning experience," said Richardson. "Europe was a sobering experience for me. I didn't enjoy my time over there, football-wise, but I never gave up on myself. I knew I could play."

Richardson finally could smile after entering the Eagles game at the end of the third quarter. He started by standing calmly in a collapsing pocket before snapping off a 15-yard completion to Brandon Stokley for a first down. He went on to complete four of his first five passes.

He then gave the Ravens' offense a happy ending on an otherwise frustrating night. With 1: 44 left and the ball at midfield, Richardson sparked the game-winning drive by hitting Phil Savoy for a 10-yard gain on third-and-nine on a play in which he showed composure after getting flushed out of the pocket.

"When things are going that well, it's easy to play the game. I got my drops, made my reads, got rid of the ball," Richardson said. "I wasn't trying to make something happen if there was nothing there. I'm a competitor, and that felt good."

Scott Mitchell, the Ravens' top quarterback, was impressed.

"Crunch time is where you win games and make your money. He was real composed," Mitchell said of Richardson. "He didn't get rattled. Wally understands that when you're in practice and you only get one rep out of 10, you've got to make it go. He's a bright kid with a good attitude and a lot of desire. That's what you like to see in a quarterback."

Ravens camp

When: Through Aug. 26

Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Information: 410-261-FANS

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