Blake won't strong-arm his way to top

Ravens: Jeff Blake has the experience and arm to lead the team's offense, but he was signed to back up Chris Redman and isn't planning to rock the boat in a bid to change his status.

Pro Football

August 25, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

An hour after one of the final practices of training camp, with his teammates long gone and a crowd of nearly 100 people waiting specifically for him, Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake politely made his way over and gave the fans what they wanted.

Blake signed autographs, took pictures and hobnobbed. He looked like a man rallying fan support for a team expected to struggle through a much-publicized rebuilding year. Instead, the opposite was occurring, as the fans, one in particular, were rallying for Blake.

"I can't wait to see you play this season," said a woman who looked to be in her mid-30s.

"Play?" replied Blake, surprised by the woman's disregard for his backup status.

"We all know what's going to happen," the woman said.

What many presume will happen is that Blake, an 11-year veteran and one of the NFL's best deep passers, will replace starter Chris Redman, 25, at some point this season. The scenario might be related to injury or performance, and could be for the short or long term. But given that coach Brian Billick hasn't made it through any of his previous three seasons with just one quarterback, Blake likely will get his shot.

Pardon Blake if, as the tone of his reply indicated, he is not sold on that prospect. He spent all last season backing up Aaron Brooks in New Orleans, where his only playing time came in the fourth quarter of the season finale, a game in which the Saints were crushed at home by the San Francisco 49ers, 31-0, and Blake threw one incomplete pass.

That was the final game of Blake's two-year stint as a Saint, and it may turn out to be a blessing.

New Orleans fell apart last season, losing by double-digit margins in each of its final four games. Brooks' play was ineffective. But Blake, who had lost a supposed quarterback competition to Brooks during the preseason, never said a word, and for three of the four blowout losses, he never played a down.

"Say what, for what [reason]? They aren't going to do anything but blackball you then, say you are a troublemaker," Blake said in explaining his silence.

He could have noted that maybe things would have turned out differently had he been given a chance. Who could blame him if he had? The Saints signed Blake to a $17.4 million, four-year contract with a $5 million signing bonus before the 2000 season, only to give up on him 10 games into it.

True, Blake did break his foot to end his year after leading the team to a 7-3 record, and Brooks did come in and wow the NFL with his mix of running and passing, but New Orleans had promised the job would be fought for in a two-man competition during training camp.

"It wasn't a competition. I never played with the first group - not one time," said Blake, who was released two months after the season. "They just let it linger on. They just wanted the press. It was all about press."

Knowing his role

From the day Blake signed with the Ravens for one year at the NFL veteran minimum of $750,000, he was told he would be the backup. "I can't comment on what happened in New Orleans, but I made it very clear to Jeff what his role would be here," Billick said.

His status has not changed after three preseason games and a training camp in which Blake was spectacular at times.

Said Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh: "I told him, Brian told him, this is the role you are coming in here under, and if you are willing to do that, we'd like to have you.

"He agreed."

Blake's first game action with the first team came Friday night in Philadelphia against the Eagles, but that was more to give Blake a break from the beating he took the previous week working with the second-string offensive line against the New York Jets.

Though one might think Blake's relationship with Redman would be frosty, the quarterbacks have been fine with one another.

"[Blake] told me I was the first quarterback he's ever given his tip about the way he throws his deep ball," Redman said. "I think that's cool how he's trying to help me out."

Blake, 31, has the knowledge to share. He put up his most impressive numbers with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1995 and 1996 - throwing for a combined 7,446 yards, 52 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. In 1995, his Pro Bowl season, he led the AFC in touchdown passes (28).

It seems Blake would have had a choice of career stops this season.

And to a certain degree, he did. The Washington Redskins came calling, but Blake could see a potential rift between himself and coach Steve Spurrier. "Because he is too egotistical and prideful. I've just seen that over the course of his career," Blake said. "I just didn't feel right when I went there. I just didn't feel it."

How about Buffalo? "I was excited about going there, but they had other plans," he said.

Like trading for Drew Bledsoe, which left Blake headed to the Ravens.

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