Having fumbled Redman ball, Billick had to look elsewhere

Pro Football

November 12, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

AFTER MISMANAGING one quarterback situation already this season, the Ravens were bumbling another yesterday. Team officials didn't want to tell if it would be No. 2 Chris Redman or No. 3 Anthony Wright starting Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

And then newly signed quarterback Ray Lucas walked into the media room and gave up the secret by mistake. He said it was going to be Wright, much to the embarrassment of the Ravens.

Wow, the earth moved. What an event. Wright over Redman. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

At this point, it really doesn't matter who quarterbacks this team because the Ravens (5-4) already have an identity of being the league's No. 1 rushing team, playing great defense and having dominating special teams.

But the move to Wright would make sense. After years of being bashed by the Ravens, and then watching him play Sunday night, Redman needs more than a week to have his confidence restored. He is a shell of himself from the last three games he played in 2002, and he needs to move on elsewhere to repair his psyche.

If Wright becomes the starter in place of injured rookie Kyle Boller as Lucas indicated, it would complete a plan coach Brian Billick had talked about internally since training camp in which Boller would be No. 1 and Wright No. 2 entering the 2004 season.

Wright's job will remain the same as Boller's, Trent Dilfer's, Stoney Case's and Redman's: hand the ball off to stud running back Jamal Lewis and throw the ball downfield and watch the receivers drop it. Wright fits the criteria better than Redman because of his mobility, which allows him to make more plays, and he can throw passes to the far side of the field.

Also, with Redman in the lineup, the Ravens might have to add a few more safe passes to their playbook such as hitches, slants and quick screens. They actually would have to put more thought into the offense and put Redman in a position to win games, much like coach Bill Parcells has done with Quincy Carter in Dallas.

That would require way too much creativity for this crew.

This comedy of musical chairs at quarterback started Monday when the Ravens announced that Boller had torn the quadriceps just above his left knee. The prognosis now has him missing four to six weeks.

But there was no need to panic. We're not talking about the Lewis boys, Ray or Jamal. If they go down with a season-ending injury, you can cancel the season. What we were talking about was a quarterback in Boller who had a rating of 62.1.

If Redman still starts Sunday, you get the sense it won't last long. There is too much tension. Redman can't put his bruised ego aside from losing the starting job to Boller in preseason, and Billick can't get his huge ego under control.

You could see it on the sideline Sunday night in the team's 33-22 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Billick turned away from Redman several times in total disdain, and Monday he privately questioned Redman's desire and why he repeatedly sat on the bench alone.

But Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh were part of the problem. The Ravens got away from running the ball in the second half in a panic move. They asked Redman to make long passes over the middle, not one of his strengths. There were few screens and play-action passes.

Redman did play poorly, completing only seven passes for 58 yards, while throwing two interceptions and getting sacked five times. But he was no more inefficient than the right side of the offensive line, which caved in several times.

Redman deserves another chance, another opportunity to play after a week of working with the first team. But that probably won't happen, because too many people might look bad if he plays well.

But there is some logic in this decision. Redman hasn't recovered mentally from losing his job a season ago to a back injury, and then to Boller in the summer. He couldn't fight through it, couldn't get over it.

Being benched is a tough hurdle for young quarterbacks to overcome, which is why most coaches don't like to make changes at the position.

Rams coach Mike Martz didn't want to bench Marc Bulger for Kurt Warner Sunday night even though Bulger couldn't hit the ground if he dropped the ball. Billick didn't want to replace Elvis Grbac with Randall Cunningham during the 2001 season partially because Grbac was expected to return as the starter for another season.

Back on Sept. 12, 1999, Billick benched quarterback Scott Mitchell six quarters into the season.

"There is a line in the movie Unforgiven," Billick said at the time. "Clint Eastwood says, `When you kill a man, it's a hell of a thing, because you've taken away everything he's got and everything he's ever going to have.' "

One day, it's bang, bang, Chris, you're dead, and the next day the Ravens ask him to resurrect himself. It's hard to do.

Billick blew this quarterback situation in training camp when he chose Boller over Redman instead of bringing the rookie along slowly.

He wanted to defy conventional thinking, go outside the box. But you never, ever kill a veteran's confidence before the season starts when your only option is a rookie. Sometimes, conventional thinking is nothing more than just good, old-fashioned common sense, even when you're a genius.

The window for opportunity in Baltimore appears closed for Redman. He has been replaced by a fifth-year player who has completed only 70 of 151 passes for 766 yards with five touchdowns throughout his NFL career.

But it really doesn't matter. The Ravens will play well Sunday. Billick is good at rallying his team through adversity. Actually, that's when he is at his best. As long as the Ravens have the Lewis boys and a defense, they always have a chance. It's been that way around here since the 2000 season.

It wouldn't be a season without the Ravens mismanaging their quarterback situation and having a controversy.

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