Sit him

QB's health most important issue

On Boller's concussion

December 20, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Brian Billick's declaration Monday, about who will start at quarterback for the Ravens on Sunday, never sounded right. Just a touch too certain, not quite enough qualifiers. But that's not really his fault. No one should have considered it to be set in stone had he or she watched the game in Miami on Sunday.

Not the part when the Ravens became a nationwide punch line by losing to the Dolphins, nor the part when Troy Smith marched them into game-winning scoring position twice. The part when Kyle Boller got splattered by Vonnie Holliday, got up slowly, eventually staggered off the field, spent several minutes surrounded by medical personnel, then spent most of the game's final stages with his woozy head in his hands.

After that, the argument should never have turned toward how badly Boller plays, or how well Smith played, or whether Smith deserved a late-season start, or whether Billick should give up on Boller, or give up on trying to win games, or risk wrecking another rookie's learning curve.

All these points were pounded a mile deep into the turf in every outlet and forum in town this week. And all of them are irrelevant.

The argument should have been about whether Boller should be let onto the field one snap before he's physically ready - no matter how many games are left, where they're being played, who backs him up and what the Ravens' record is.

Three days before kickoff at Qwest Field in Seattle, reality has intruded, in the form of Boller being absent from practice yesterday and exiting the Castle to go home early. Yes, his symptoms might clear up today, which is why Billick wouldn't officially declare him out yesterday.

But that's a mighty big risk to take, and Billick knows it. The days of coaches or players overruling the medical experts are over, anyway - at least the NFL says they are, although we can only hope the league means it.

If you're in a giving mood this holiday season, this might be the perfect opportunity to give the beleaguered coach a break. You don't have to take back whatever you said during the longest, most aggravating eight-game stretch in franchise history, but on this quarterback topic, put yourself in his shoes.

He is justified in wanting the most prepared and experienced quarterback on the field each week, even the last two weeks of a season that has gone off the tracks. He hears the constant reminders of how he rushed Boller four years ago. He might very well know Smith is the better quarterback right now - and sense that the other players want him out there - but think a full offseason as a serious candidate to start in 2008 would make more sense for Smith's career than the crash course he would get now.

Add to that the notion that anything is better than putting Boller out there Sunday with Tweety Birds still circling his head. You'd be just as well off sending Steve McNair out with his arm in a sling.

Stir it all up, and you have the perfect time and place to soothe the masses, save Boller's medulla oblongata and test-drive the Heisman Trophy winner who fell into your lap in April.

Everybody should be thankful that Smith is doing a hellacious impression of a quarterback ready to play, regardless of his youth. The big fear expressed has been that a nightmarish game in Seattle would ruin his confidence. Yet from talking to him and the other Ravens, you get the sense that sacking him eight times and, after the last one, dumping a cooler full of scalding-hot Starbucks gingerbread latte on him wouldn't ruin Smith's confidence. That is, if you even believe he'd allow himself to be sacked eight times.

"If you understand what Troy's been through, then it's not a surprise the way he comes out and the way he plays the game," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "The guy is poised under pressure, and that's what you want your quarterback to be. He doesn't flinch, regardless of what the situation is."

The debate, though, has been all about what that situation is, for the Ravens, Billick and both quarterbacks. The situation is this: For his own good, Kyle Boller should not play Sunday. Right now, Smith is neither the savior, the project, the future, nor the fragile vase in need of handling.

All he is, as they say around here, is the next man up.

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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