Wright's quiet confidence comes across loud, clear

December 04, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS QUARTERBACK Anthony Wright can't go to the supermarket or malls anymore without people recognizing him. Television and radio stations want interviews. Everyone wants a piece of Mr. Wright.

But Wright refuses to change. Even after the hype machine known as ESPN recently declared that he was basically responsible for the Ravens' resurgent offense (there is no such thing) in the past two games, Wright has shrugged it off.

There is a quiet confidence about him that the players and coaches admire.

"He probably has been told his entire life he can't do what he is doing because of the fact that he is an African-American quarterback," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "He has probably been told that from high school, to college to the pros - that he can't do that. He is very strong mentally, doesn't carry a chip on his shoulders.

"But he has a confidence of, `Yeah, I can,' and, `Whatever obstacle you throw in front of me, I'll overcome it,' " Billick said of Wright, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. "He could have got into this position and said, `Hell with this team, I've got to show I can make some plays, so I'm just going to fling it around. If I make some interceptions and lose games, so what, I'm in no worse position. If I force some, make some plays, then I'm there.' Instead, he worked within our framework."

Both the Ravens and Wright have kept the quarterback change in perspective. Against the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago, Wright completed 20 of 37 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns in the Ravens' miraculous 44-41, come-from-behind victory. But that game was an aberration. The Ravens were lucky. They were forced to toss it up as opposed to their occasional toss-it-up style.

Last week, in the Ravens' 44-6 win over the San Francisco 49ers, Wright managed a game that was more to Billick's liking. He only completed 14 of 25 passes for 177 yards, but the Ravens controlled the pace of the game. Wright threw basically safe patterns, such as hitches and quick outs. The Ravens even threw in a middle screen and a short, safe bootleg pass, instead of their usual waggle.

Meanwhile, the Ravens scored 24 points off turnovers, ran running back Jamal Lewis 19 times for 78 yards, and won the special teams battles for field position. It was the perfect game, Ravens style.

"Having been here in training camp, watching the team playing with Kyle [Boller], Anthony had gotten a feel for the personality of this team," Billick said. "He knew he had to make some plays but didn't have to force it."

According to Wright, a fifth-year veteran, the transition from No. 3 to No. 1 has been smooth and relatively easy. He has never doubted himself despite failing to stick on the Pittsburgh Steelers' and Dallas Cowboys' rosters during his first three seasons in the NFL.

He went through a roller-coaster offseason nearly a year ago when the Ravens tried to re-sign quarterback Jeff Blake, wondered whether Chris Redman would return healthy as a starter, and then drafted Boller in the first round with the intention of Boller being the future star.

In retrospect, Wright was kicked, dragged and stomped on, but his confidence never wavered.

"I watched the players in front of me. I learned from their mistakes," Wright said. "I would go over situations in my head, know what I would have done differently. I stayed mentally in tune with the games and waited for my time. I was shocked I was given this position."

Wright has played well only in six of the past 12 quarters he has started. But he has done something that neither Boller nor Redman could do earlier in the season, and that's get this offense to score touchdowns inside the red zone.

In the past two games, aided by turnovers and long returns, the Ravens had the ball inside the opponents' 20-yard line eight times. The Ravens have scored five touchdowns, three on touchdown passes from Wright. Before Wright started the past three games, the Ravens had the least effective red-zone offense in the league.

What has been the major difference between Boller and Wright?

Wright runs better. He runs more with a purpose because he seems to read the field faster and makes quicker decisions. Even though he hasn't played in as many NFL games as Boller, Wright still has played against NFL competition in practice for five years.

He saw a faster game in practice than Boller did in college, and still continues to adjust.

"You're always working on mechanics and footwork," Wright said. "For me now, it's just getting into the game, adjusting to it and getting a feel for it."

Billick said: "Even if [Wright] hasn't played appreciatively more, he has been around, so you can accelerate things a little bit. The expectations are a little higher, and you can be less forgiving of certain mistakes because he should know better."

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