QB or not QB is question for Ravens

answer may be Leftwich

Nfl Draft

April 23, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

THEY JUST MIGHT pick a quarterback in Baltimore in the first round of the NFL draft on Saturday.

The Ravens may even pick a guy who dragged his broken leg around the field in a no-huddle display of gridiron heroism - which is not an overstatement if you saw clips of Byron Leftwich last fall during his stellar senior season at Marshall, rifling passes from the shotgun on, basically, one leg.

Yes, some bit of local history might soon be made. For the first time, the Ravens may draft a quarterback in the first round - at least that's what the spies, moles and tireless beat reporters in Owings Mills tell us.

We believe them, despite access to classified reports that confirm NFL general managers and coaches spread almost as much disinformation about their draft-day intentions as former government spokesmen in Iraq.

Maybe we believe reports about the Ravens possibly trading up to secure Leftwich because we want to believe it.

Maybe we believe it so that the Ravens' quarterback quandary can be answered by 2 p.m. Saturday. That way, amateur draft-ologists all across greater Baltimore can turn off the hyperbolic TV coverage and get down to serious business, like watching the NBA playoffs (imagine, pro basketball games that matter!) or mowing the lawn.

Lord knows the Ravens could use a front-line, big-ticket passer for their rise back to the top, because this is the very city where the greatest quarterback of all time played and lived and became a legend.

Funny how these things go 'round.

Baltimore shockingly lost John Unitas early in the 2002 NFL season.

Now, after so many years of Brian Billick's infamous and confounding NFL film Dances With Quarterbacks (starring the likes of Scott Mitchell, Tony Banks and Elvis Grbac), the local franchise has finally arrived at a college draft day in which it may just fill a glaring need at the most pivotal position on the football field.

You do not have to be Mel Kiper Jr. to whip up a little interest in what the Ravens will do this weekend.

Even those of us rooting for Chris Redman's healthy and successful return must proclaim that the Ravens need a quarterback.

This scenario was set up the minute Billick told Jeff Blake to go fly a kite - or take a job handing off to Emmitt Smith in Arizona with the Cardinals. Blake's departure has the airy feeling of spring cleaning. The closets are empty; there's no clutter. He was not the answer over the next five seasons, when the Ravens' defense will need an offense to go with it.

But with Redman's recovery from back surgery a bigger question than whether he has the goods to be a solid NFL quarterback (he seemed on the verge of a breakthrough last season at 3-3 before getting hurt), the Ravens are presented with an intriguing confluence of situations. They need a quarterback, they have a top 10 pick, and Leftwich could still be there when it's time for Ozzie Newsome to turn in the card.

Suddenly, instead of quietly slipping a quarterback onto their roster in the second or third or sixth round, the Ravens must deliberate that most dreaded NFL decision: whether to gamble a first-round pick on the one position most difficult to judge future greatness.

In this city, where quarterback greatness was perfected by Johnny U., there is a palpable air of anticipation that the long-awaited return of a franchise quarterback might be near. Leftwich, with the big arm and engaging personality and leadership ability, is absolutely alluring - even when the disinformation campaign of NFL draft day attempts to find holes in Leftwich's game.

Leftwich has enough collegiate passing yards to get him to the moon? He played against bad defenses. Big arm? No legs to scramble on. Can muscle the ball into mail slots where others falter? Accuracy diminished when he's on the move.

Great NFL quarterbacks can indeed be picked.

Think of Namath and Elway and Marino. Imagine what Manning and Vick still have left up their sleeves.

Then again, the greatest quarterback of all time was made, not picked. Someone spotted him among the rock- and glass-strewn dirt in a semipro league game, where he earned $6 between pile-driving at a construction site.

Think of Unitas, whose draft-day number was in the bowels of the lowly ninth round. No lights, no cameras, no signing bonus, definitely no action.

But if Leftwich is still on the board at No. 10, we want him - even when we know that sometimes, the brightest diamonds are found, anonymous, cast-out, in the dirt.

The bar was set heavenly high for franchise quarterbacks in this NFL city. That doesn't mean the Ravens shouldn't take a chance.

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