Questions linger for quarterbacks

July 20, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

Joe Flacco's signing last week means a lot of things, but among them is this: The first-round pick and the quarterback of the future will report to Ravens training camp on time tomorrow.

And this: Tomorrow begins the process of questions about the quarterback situation being asked every single day, from the moment the players and coaches first meet the media upon reporting to Westminster until the regular-season finale three days before New Year's. If then.

Not that this is unusual with this franchise. The drama over who plays the position never really ends, largely because there have been only relatively tiny segments of time when the situation was resolved, when we knew who "The Man" was.

This year, the questions will range all over the place, and there will be a handful of common themes. But the queries that will be repeated over and over until the subjects' eyes roll back in their heads will be: How does Kyle look? How does Troy look? How does Joe look? And: How much longer for Joe?

If it doesn't end up being irritating for everybody involved, then they have stronger wills and more patience than the average man. It has been irritating just to think about it since draft day - actually, before that, since Steve McNair's sudden retirement. It will prove to be as much of a test of Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and John Harbaugh as any defense will.

They have already been tested, actually, throughout the Ravens' seven minicamps, rookie camps and organized team activities this spring. That's a lot, even for a team breaking in a new head coach, new offense and new mind-set. It also meant a lot of onlookers putting under a microscope the quarterbacks' every snap, setup, throw, handoff and even every impromptu post-practice contest.

After one of the May OTA sessions, Harbaugh described how the evaluation process for Boller, Smith and Flacco was fluid. You couldn't make complete judgments about any of them that early, nor could you come to conclusions based on them in shorts, with no pads, against skeleton defenses.

But all of them together, over time, put together a picture, one that wouldn't become whole until training camp. No one, coach or quarterbacks, could afford to base anything on a prejudgment or a glimpse here or there.

Of course, that didn't mean Harbaugh didn't have to give a full report every time the reporters showed up. "Every day, huh?" he said. "Well, that's part of it; we'll have to get used to it."

The best assessment he could give, meanwhile, as the camps wore on and some combination of the three quarterbacks took their reps, was this, a few weeks later: "They're competing - they're competing against themselves, they're competing against the offense. They've done really well."

Starting tomorrow, though, everything the three have done so far gets multiplied by 10 (at least), in intensity, urgency and scrutiny, from insiders and outsiders. That's right, besides Ravens personnel and media, fans at Westminster will be making their own firsthand judgments, too.

The world will know quickly how well all three quarterbacks handle that level of attention.

It's a relief to have Flacco be part of it, although there never seemed to be much concern, much less doubt, that he would be in camp on time. Flacco seemed the least concerned of them all. That air of nonchalance might serve him well in the coming days. The biggest plus, though, is that when the whos, whats and whens of the starting job evolve, there will be no disclaimers about the heir apparent reporting late, or not at all.

And, if we're all lucky, there won't be any semi-retired, waffling, testy former three-time NFL Most Valuable Player looming over everybody's shoulder and transforming this from riveting competition/theater to a combination circus/rubbernecking freeway pileup. (That's right - less than a week later, I'm not even buying my own thin rationale for adding Brett Favre to the mix.)

The backstories that Boller, Smith and Flacco bring to this are well-known by now. There's nothing left for them to do but fight it out for the starting job. There's nothing left for us to do but watch. And, of course, put them and Harbaugh under the hot lights after every single round.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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

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