We've been down this road before

April 27, 2008|By RICK MAESE

NEW YORK — NEW YORK-- --After working the phones feverishly and ultimately missing out on their first option, the Ravens selected a quarterback to finally fill that black hole in the pocket, a young arm and sharp mind charged with leading the team to new heights and into a new era of success.

"If you look across the board at every measurement you have, he's the complete package," the Ravens' head coach said. "He's got size, intelligence, huge arm strength and great charisma. Yet he's just scratching the surface at where he can go."

Strongest arm in the draft, great college numbers, intelligent, personable, hungry. The Ravens got their man, their quarterback of the future.

I'm referring, of course, to Kyle Boller, the first-round pick in the 2003 draft. We bring up his name because despite the optimism and complimentary words showered on yesterday's selection of Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, the circumstances seem somewhat familiar. The Ravens have to ensure that the results will be different.

The Ravens' draft plans changed early yesterday, when they were unable to obtain their top choice, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. Their initial response - a trade that reaped four picks - was a beautiful orchestration; it was vintage Ozzie Newsome. Their second response - another trade, this one resulting in the Flacco selection - was as much a head-scratcher as it was a fist pump.

It's not clear why the Ravens felt they had to move up. (Either someone panicked or someone in the war room had early dinner reservations.) Nor is it clear what kind of impact a small-school quarterback who was a virtual unknown a year ago can be expected to make - in the near future and in the distant.

Clearly, the Ravens knew at the outset that they would likely walk out of the first round with a quarterback. They made an admirable chase after Ryan, but the St. Louis Rams wanted too much to part with their No. 2 pick and the Atlanta Falcons had their hearts set on him at the No. 3 spot.

Because the top remaining quarterbacks were projected as late-first round choices, there was no sense in hanging on to the No. 8 pick. Newsome somehow persuaded the Jacksonville Jaguars to part with a first-round pick, two in the third round and one in the fourth. A Times Square pickpocket artist couldn't have got more out of the Jaguars.

Using some of that stockpiled ammo they stockpiled from Jacksonville, the Ravens eventually moved up from the No. 26 spot to get Flacco at No. 18 - one spot higher than Boller was taken in 2003.

The suggestion here isn't that Flacco is the second coming of Boller or that he's doomed to follow a familiar set of scattered footprints. Far from it. By all accounts, Flacco is bursting with potential and talent. (Though, it's also worth noting, there were some inside the Castle and out who preferred Michigan's Chad Henne to Flacco.)

But the praise, context and expectations that provided the framework yesterday were not unlike what Ravens fans saw and heard five years earlier, when the Ravens missed out on Byron Leftwich and selected Boller.

It's what the Ravens do next that might ultimately distinguish the two.

By all accounts, the Ravens learned plenty of lessons with Boller, a what-not-to-do list of how to raise a young quarterback in the NFL. With new faces and fresh minds on the coaching staff, you can bet the Ravens will have a different approach with Flacco - hoping, of course, for a different result.

Taking a quarterback in the draft is always a gamble, so it's not surprising that Flacco is no guarantee. Coming out of a Football Championship Subdivision school, he'll have to adjust to more complex defenses and quicker defensive backs. He'll have to fight for playing time - something he didn't do when he transferred from Pittsburgh so he could play immediately at Delaware. And he'll have to glean locker-room guidance from Boller, who is still surrounded by wisps of smoke from his trial by fire in Baltimore.

In fact, in many ways, Boller felt like more of a sure thing on draft day in 2003 than Flacco does now. Flacco inspires a sense of hope, but not unbridled, riot-in-the-streets, light-your-hair-on-fire enthusiasm.

He impressed plenty of scouts at the NFL combine and in personal workouts. Like Boller, his arm is constantly compared to a cannon, virtually classifiable in the military's weapons database. Flacco shot up the Ravens' draft board this spring, and the fact that they did so much dancing yesterday - pulling off two trades to get their man - shows how highly they regard him.

On paper, the Ravens' only two first-round quarterbacks are similar. On paper, both were expected to lead the franchise for years to come. On paper, both were praised for limitless potential.

On the field, though, is where it counts.

So let's hope it does work out, that Flacco and Boller are only superficially and contextually similar. The Ravens' revolving door of quarterbacks has spun way too many times. It'd be a shame if the Ravens' future amounted to little more than repeating history.rick.maese@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.