To Ravens, Stewart performing passably

Backup QB has struggled, but also led two TD drives

August 26, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens backup quarterback Kordell Stewart doesn't complicate his preseason objectives.

He has but two intentions.

"The most important thing for me is to come out healthy and make some things happen," Stewart said.

To that end, Stewart is right where he wants to be. He has yet to miss a practice and when he has played in preseason games, things have certainly happened.

Problem is, many of those things have been troublesome. Now, as has been Stewart's history in other cities when he struggles, he has become the topic of talk-show fodder and message-board subject matter, polarizing his backers, who stress patience, and his detractors, who say he is inept.

The Ravens, though, stand firmly behind Stewart, who has worked behind the backup offensive line in his 2 1/2 quarters of preseason action.

Stewart has completed four of 15 passes for 40 yards and thrown two interceptions. His 22.2 quarterback rating is the worst among the three quarterbacks who have played for the Ravens this preseason. The 2-for-8 showing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday left him with a quarterback rating of 0.

But Stewart has led two touchdown drives in his seven possessions, a statistic that reaffirms Ravens coach Brian Billick's faith in the 10-year veteran.

"He's had a scoring drive every time he's been in there," Billick said. "He's made some big plays. I don't know that he's struggled any more than anybody else."

Yet, there have been struggles, the most glaring of which came from an interception on an attempted screen pass in third quarter of the Ravens' 26-17 loss to the Eagles.

Stewart, after leading an eight-play, 79-yard touchdown drive the possession before, tried to lob the ball to Musa Smith while retreating from the defensive line. Instead, he tossed the ball right into the hands of undrafted rookie tackle Jon Bradley, who returned it 7 yards to the Ravens' 27-yard line.

The play was doomed from the start. Smith was forced to pick up a defensive lineman who should have been blocked by one of the backup guards. Despite the blunders made by others, the result is what everybody remembers.

"When you get surprised like that, you've got two options: Throw the ball away or lob it up and have somebody pick it off, and he made the wrong choice," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "I expect a guy who's played 10 years to make a better decision than that, and he knows that."

Stewart took responsibility for the interception and did not blame it on unfamiliarity with the playbook or teammates.

If something were to happen to Kyle Boller, Stewart feels ready to take over the Ravens' offense, sounding completely at ease when discussing the prospect.

"We've been going over it the last two, three months now," Stewart said. "It's something that I understand. There are some things they may call or do that I don't know about, but we're working toward getting to those plays and themes.

"If I needed to, I'd be ready to go in right now."

Others believe that to be true. Reputation and past accolades alone have done enough to win over teammates, regardless of the uneven preseason.

Aside from the interception, Stewart also took a sack in the opener against the Atlanta Falcons that cost the team a chip-shot field goal at the end of the first half. Two other Stewart-led drives in the games ended in three-and-outs.

"I look at Kordell as a guy who was beating us a lot when I was in Cleveland," receiver Kevin Johnson said. "He's very capable. He's been to a Pro Bowl a couple of years ago, but this is just like anything, an adjustment. Anytime you come into a new system, you've got to get adjusted to how plays are called."

While Stewart says his adjustment is going fine, what has not happened because of his uneven play is a quarterback controversy.

A few more touchdown drives and more consistency throwing the ball might have had a few wondering if Stewart should get a shot, but it is doubtful that he could drum up enough support even if he finishes the last two preseason games in grand fashion.

"It's coming close to the point where I won't be out there very often," Stewart said. "Kyle will be starting. These are my last couple of opportunities that I can prove to my teammates, my coaches and the fans that they have a proven winner on this team, and that if they need to go to me, they can feel confident that they can."

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