Ravens pass, Browns gain

QB Anderson, waived by Ravens as a rookie, thrives in Cleveland

November 18, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

The reeling Ravens have to endure another quarterback controversy today, and it has nothing to do with Steve McNair.

When the Cleveland Browns (5-4) play the Ravens (4-5) at M&T Bank Stadium, a sellout crowd of 71,000 will watch the quarterback it has clamored for all season (Kyle Boller) and the one it now wishes it had (Derek Anderson).

Boller begins what could be a seven-game audition for next season's starting job now that McNair's run with the Ravens could be over.

At the point when the Ravens are going through another quarterback transition comes Anderson, the sixth-round pick who got away. Just 2 1/2 seasons since the Ravens released him, Anderson is among the NFL's top passers with a 90.7 quarterback rating and 20 touchdown passes -four times more than McNair and Boller have thrown combined.

As Ravens fans wonder what might have been, the Ravens acknowledge they knew about Anderson's potential.

"We coveted Derek. We really thought he had a future," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We were in a roster situation where injuries prompted other concerns. We thought we could develop him. Cleveland did a great job of picking him up. He's playing the way we thought he would."

Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome ultimately made the decision, Boller unwittingly played a role in the Ravens releasing Anderson.

In the 2005 season opener, Boller suffered a toe injury, leaving the Ravens with Anthony Wright and Anderson at quarterback. Because the Ravens didn't want a rookie as the primary backup to Wright, they signed Kordell Stewart and cut receiver Patrick Johnson.

A week later, the Ravens wanted to bring back Johnson and had to decide to cut Anderson or veteran backup linebacker Jim Nelson (which then-special teams coachGary Zauner strongly opposed). Nelson was eventually cut later that season, and Johnson finished with two catches for 31 yards.

As the Ravens were contemplating what to do with Anderson, Browns general manager Phil Savage was scouting a college game, where he spoke with Oregon State's Mike Riley, who coached Anderson in college.

Riley highly recommended Anderson to Savage and said if the Ravens tried to put him on the practice squad - which Riley had heard might happen - that Savage should pick him up.

"Lo and behold, two days later there was Derek Anderson [on the waiver wire]," Savage said.

Known for his big arm and big feet (he wore size-17 shoes at the age of 10), the 6-foot-6 Anderson showed flashes during the 2005 preseason with the Ravens, leading them to a comeback win over the Washington Redskins in the finale.

But his release didn't draw headlines. It was a two-line note at the bottom of a story in The Sun.

Anderson, who didn't get into a game with the Browns in 2005, began the 2006 season as the Browns' No. 2 quarterback and made three starts. But he failed to unseat Charlie Frye as the starter during training camp this year.

After Frye was sacked five times in 15 pass attempts in the season opener, the Browns traded Frye and promoted Anderson, who has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six of eight starts.

"When Derek went in as the starter, I don't think anybody had any visions of him throwing 20 touchdowns," Savage said. "He just took off."

Some of the Ravens thought Anderson could develop.

"I've always thought he was a poised quarterback, even when he was here," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He was mature beyond his years."

Said receiver Mark Clayton: "When I see the highlights of him on television, I don't think, `Wow, I can't believe he's doing that.' "

The loss of Anderson is compounded by the fact that the Ravens have failed to develop a quarterback in their 12-year existence.

But the Ravens are still holding out hope that Boller can become a legitimate NFL starter.

"He's a very hyperkinetic athlete," Billick said. "He has to get to the point where he just [has to] calm his mechanics down. He has shown that, and if he can continue to do that and show that type of maturity, the sky is the limit for Kyle."

Boller opened the eyes of some of his teammates when he took over late in last Sunday's 21-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Some players said Boller refused to call a play sent in from the sideline and changed it to one he wanted, which resulted in a completion. (Boller wouldn't comment on this.)

"He has definitely progressed," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "He sees the field better, he sees it faster and he's right there."

Last season at M&T Bank Stadium, Boller entered in relief to beat the Browns and Anderson.

A year later, fans wonder what would have happened if Anderson hadn't been cut by the Ravens.

Anderson does not.

"Last year, it would have probably been awhile until I got a chance to play," Anderson said. "But I don't really dwell on it or think about it."

Unlike the Ravens, the Browns aren't about to let Anderson go anytime soon.

Because the Browns drafted Brady Quinn in the first round this year, there has been speculation that they would allow Anderson to go as a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

But unlike the situation with Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in San Diego - Brees left the Chargers as a free agent in 2006, two years after they acquired Rivers - Quinn isn't a top-five pick and his contract isn't big enough to force Cleveland to part ways with Anderson.

"From a financial standpoint, that doesn't have a real bearing on what we do with Derek," Savage said. "Right now, we feel like it's a position of strength."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

>>>Browns@Ravens Today, 1 p.m., chs. 13, 9, 1090 AM, 97.9 FM Line: Browns by 3

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