Motion in pocket, but no clear lane

April 27, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

Troy Smith must be very uncomfortable. Or unhappy. Or, at least, very, very confused.

It's not as if it was going to be a huge upset when the Ravens picked a quarterback early in yesterday's NFL draft. Smith knew what was coming, knew the competition for the starting job was going to include him, Kyle Boller and whomever the Ravens anointed.

But he couldn't have been prepared to see what happened yesterday, or hear what was said. Joe Flacco, solidly in the second tier of available quarterbacks, a candidate to slip into the lower reaches of the first round - before the Ravens leaped up eight spots from the bottom of the round to the middle to get him. The second quarterback chosen, one of the only two in the first round (and the last taken until after the Ravens picked again late in the second round, covering 55 selections).

Flacco, who is physically the polar opposite of Smith: tall, not terribly mobile, self-described as "a strong kid that can hang in the pocket and throw the ball accurately with people on him."

Flacco was described by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome as "the guy to lead our football team into the future" (before diplomatically deferring the actual decision to John Harbaugh, sitting to his right). With Smith, the guy still labeled as being too small, one season and two starts into his career.

This wasn't necessarily a message the Ravens were sending to Smith - or to Boller, not to push him out of the debate entirely. But it sends a message to the rest of us: We think this guy we maneuvered all over the first round to get can do what Boller and Smith can't, and do it fairly quickly. And: If it turns out that he can't, then we really blew it. Paid too much for him. Overvalued him. Sent this annoying quarterback search back to square one.

Of course, everybody knows the worst time to evaluate a draft and its players is within minutes of the pick. But the competition couldn't have shifted more dramatically in a 10-day span than the Ravens' quarterback battle did. Out went the proven (but aging and broken-down) veteran, Steve McNair. Then came, albeit only in a best-case scenario, the one quarterback gem, with the Ravens poking around at moving way up to get Matt Ryan, but deciding late that it wasn't worth it.

In, instead, came a quarterback who had been considered part of a group that was hard to distinguish from one another, whose main similarity was in not being widely considered franchise players. Seeing how such quarterbacks emerge from all over the spectrum, none of them may end up having as big an impact as someone not drafted at all.

Or drafted late on the second day. As Smith was a year ago.

This is why the draft is so tricky. There's no doubt the Ravens' biggest need was at quarterback (when has it not been, with the exception of two seasons ago?). Also, no doubt whoever started for them this season wasn't expected to get them into Super Bowl contention.

But it was very much in doubt that the quarterback who would get them there was available anywhere in this draft. Remember, it's hardly unanimous that Ryan is a franchise quarterback, either. And after Flacco was taken, the rest of the NFL proved it wasn't that impressed with the impact potential of the next tier.

It wouldn't have been smart for the Ravens to give up too much to reach for Ryan. But how smart was it to reach for Flacco? What makes him such a great bet to be the quarterback who will end the era of ineptitude in filling that position long term? The Ravens brass said a lot about what they liked, but nothing they said explained it better than did the act of trading way up to get him.

No one will know whether the Ravens guessed right until Flacco gets here and truly competes with Smith and Boller

However, for their sakes, Flacco had better be what they say he is, and more.

Because if, after all the Ravens did to get him, he cannot beat out the guy they took as a flyer in the fifth round the year before, they're going to be reminded of it for a long time.

Just ask the guy who still isn't being mentioned much in this space, Boller.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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

David Steele -- Points after

Don't feel guilty if your first reaction to the news of Adam Loewen going on the disabled list was: Heeeeeeere we go. It was fun while it lasted.

After today, we can put one of the all-time pieces of sports-specific jargon into hibernation for the next 10 months: "on the clock." This summer, we can break out "fortnight" for Wimbledon, the only time it's ever used. And we're still two years from the World Cup and constant references to shutouts as "nil."

Tyler Hansbrough will return to North Carolina for his senior year, which gives him a chance to become the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leader in grittiness.

The Madden folks could have ended the video game-cover curse years ago if they'd put Brett "Never Missed a Start" Favre on it earlier.

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