Tangled web of expectations ensnares McNair

August 06, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

LANDOVER -- Since Steve McNair is going to be the reason the Ravens either win a Super Bowl or fall flat on their faces and get everybody fired, at the very least he deserves a nickname. Something less sacrilegious than The Savior, although that's exactly how lots of the faithful have perceived him since before he even arrived.

So ... how about Spiderman?

That comes, in part, from Derrick Mason, his past and current teammate. Not because McNair is climbing walls, swinging from goal posts or enraging tabloid editors. It has to do with those very expectations the franchise and its followers are placing on him, which he toted around even during yesterday's terribly meaningful-yet-meaningless scrimmage against the Redskins.

"You expect that. You expect that at that position, when you have that type of status," Mason said after the game, watching as a horde of reporters bolted away from him in mid-question when McNair returned to his locker. "You've got a responsibility - kind of like the Spiderman movies. He's got those powers. Now, with those powers comes great responsibility.

"That's what Steve has to uphold, and I don't see any indication of him not upholding that responsibility of being our starting quarterback and our leader. So everything he does is going to be scrutinized. Even if he does it perfectly, somebody's going to find some way where that gets scrutinized. But it's been that way his whole life, his whole career."

And it was that way the whole afternoon, although some of the scrutiny was indirect. It was a pro-Skins crowd, to put it mildly. In fact, "crowd" is putting it mildly. They drew more than 47,000 who were not just willing, but eager, to bake and cheer and boo and chant about everything going on in front of them, no matter how little connection it might have to what either team does five weeks from now when there are actual games that actually count.

Still, there were more than enough Baltimore eyes and ears and hearts tuned to McNair, who was putting his powers on display in his biggest public forum yet. How did he do? No one in purple was complaining, even about his one and only incompletion in the 11-on-11 - an interception straight into the arms of linebacker Marcus Washington.

Too many factors are involved to give a real, objective analysis. Jamal Lewis only worked in the 7-on-7s; Mike Anderson was knocked out of the game early in the 11s. Jonathan Ogden wasn't there, and Mark Clayton didn't play. McNair had to deal with blitzes and how his line handled them (not particularly well), and wasn't exactly looking to air it out. And it's safe to say that the Redskins' defense is far ahead of the Ravens' offense, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, McNair looked fine. He looked as good as a quarterback of his resume should after one week of camp and two months of cramming on the playbook. For what it's worth, he completed all five of his other passes in the 11-on-11s, for 30 yards, and in the 7-on-7s he was 4-for-5, hitting Mason twice in goal-line situations and watching him take them into the end zone both times. He clicked plenty with Todd Heap, an increasingly encouraging sign of things to come.

Most of all, he looked comfortable, even when circumstances demanded that he wouldn't be. That's not a small issue. It's also not completely subjective - all you can go on is what you see and what he says. But he withstood the extremely preliminary scrutiny and shows every sign of doing it over and over again.

McNair doesn't seem troubled about having his every move pulled apart and examined by hungry outsiders. "I'm not trying to rush myself ... I'm going to have to do the best I can week in and week out," McNair said. "I just have to be patient and learn this offense and not get frustrated."

There isn't a sign whatsoever that he's been frustrated - or that anybody in the organization is impatient. The coaches and players trust him. He's getting where he needs to be. He'll get there on time. He'll be what we need him to be. It doesn't appear to be lip service.

"You have to give him some leeway," Mason said. "It's not his fault that he came into the situation he came into, so late ... What he has control over is that once he came through those doors, he's been in that playbook nonstop. So you're going to have some mistakes, but on a whole, Steve's done a great job."

He has to, because everybody's watching really, really close. And really, really needing him to do what's expected of him - not shooting webs from his wrists to defeat the powers of evil (or of the Steelers, if that's the case), but pretty close. Great power, but great responsibility.

Spiderman McNair. You heard it here first.


Points after -- David Steele

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