Harris, Gaither closing in on QB opening

Quarterbacks are trying to make impression, win No. 3 spot in rookie camp


April 30, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As the 30-some first-year players try to find their way around the Ravens' rookie minicamp today, there are two who already know their path.

Bowling Green's Josh Harris and Western Carolina's Brian Gaither will be looking to make a strong first impression as they try to win the No. 3 quarterback job.

Harris would appear to have the inside track to back up Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright after being drafted in the sixth round, but team officials have been equally high on the potential of Gaither, an undrafted rookie.

"I wouldn't preclude us signing a veteran at some point, but it certainly would fit our scenario if we could have a good young guy," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

A versatile athlete, Harris has the chance to make the greatest strides of any quarterback in the draft.

At 6 feet 1, 238 pounds, he ran a shotgun-oriented offense that relied as much on his arm as his feet. He finished as Bowling Green's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (43) and finished second in passing yards (7,503) and total touchdowns (55). Last season, he completed 65.8 percent of his throws for 3,813 yards and 27 touchdowns.

The biggest adjustments for him will be getting accustomed to taking snaps under center and tweaking his upright delivery.

"We just thought mobility-wise, he has the potential to give the third quarterback position a different dimension," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "Because they don't get as many reps and as much practice time, a lot of times they have to make plays on their own. We feel like he was a guy who could do that and, in the meantime, develop some of his other skills."

Gaither, who is 6-3, 222 pounds, is more of a pocket passer who has a live arm and possesses good mobility to buy time to throw.

One reason he wasn't drafted was his lack of experience. Gaither was a starter as a sophomore, split time as a junior and then took over as the full-time starter again as a senior. He completed 59 percent of his passes and led the Southern Conference with 2,717 yards and 14 touchdowns passing last season.

After going undrafted, he decided to sign with the Ravens over Atlanta. Ravens officials were impressed by his toughness, especially in a 59-20 loss against North Carolina State when he was 20-for-37 passing for 173 yards.

"He hung in there in adverse circumstances, and that's what really caught my eye," Savage said. "A couple of games when they were playing a bigger opponent, his arm gave them a chance to compete and fit some balls in that a lot of these guys couldn't do."

With practice squads expanding from five to eight players this year, Billick said there is a chance one could be the third quarterback while the other remains on the developmental team.

As the two-day minicamp begins today, Billick is keeping his expectations low for his young quarterbacks.

"First, they have to show they got the basic fundamental abilities to survive," Billick said. "Then, it's looking at their ability to absorb the offense. Understanding totally that both of these are developmental quarterbacks, we don't expect them to be proficient from the get-go. But if they show potential - that I believe they will - they'll be two young quarterbacks to have in the system."

This marks the first time that Billick has gone with a rookie-only camp after the draft. Because the league year is pushed back a week later while the draft remained the same weekend, Billick decided to hold off on bringing in the entire team until June.

"It's just too early to bring the veterans together," Billick said. "What we would have gotten out of a veteran camp this weekend was probably somewhat minimal. The fact that we can increase what we do in June was more attractive to me."

NOTES: All minicamps are closed to the public. ... The Ravens' spring football festival will be held Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium. There will be question-and-answer forums with Ravens executives and autograph sessions with more than 20 players, including Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. Tickets for adults are $12 and $7 for children (under 12). ... The Ravens' staff will hold their one-day annual clinic for area high school coaches on May 15 at the stadium. Registration will start at 7 a.m.

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