Armchair QB

O, BY THE WAY

Ravens rookie waiting in wings to start

On Joe Flacco

August 06, 2008

The decision by Ravens coach John Harbaugh to start Kyle Boller at quarterback in the first preseason game against the New England Patriots tomorrow night was inevitable. For starters, Boller has earned the right to that distinction, however temporary it might be, over the other quarterback with some experience, Troy Smith. Boller has 42 career starts to Smith's two.

Secondly, to cast rookie Joe Flacco as a presumed starter is to do him a disservice in that it establishes unrealistic expectations along with the attendant pressures.

But as obvious as the decision to hand Boller the ball for the first half of the first preseason game was, it is just as obvious that in the bigger picture it means little.

In the long run, this is still Flacco's job to lose.

Harbaugh was in Philadelphia when the Eagles drafted Donovan McNabb No. 2 overall in 1999. At the time, Philadelphia had career backup Doug Pederson, who served as a place holder for about a half season for McNabb.

So even without the Ravens' oft-cited example of rushing Boller to his developmental detriment, Harbaugh has first-hand experience in seeing how important it is to ease a young quarterback into the NFL.

Meanwhile, the contrary example that most recently turned traditional thinking on its head regarding rookie quarterbacks was the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.

As many Ravens fans will recollect, it was the Ravens who forced the situation with "Big Ben" when they knocked out then-starter Tommy Maddox in the second game of the 2004 season. With Roethlisberger starting, the Steelers ran off 14 straight wins and went to the AFC championship. The next year, they won the Super Bowl.

Whether or not one subscribes to a cause-and-effect relationship, since then coaches have been less reluctant to toss their green quarterbacks into the fray. In 2006, all three QBs taken in the first round - the Tennessee Titans' Vince Young, Arizona Cardinals' Matt Leinart and Denver Broncos' Jay Cutler - went on to start (with varying degrees of success). Three of the six quarterbacks taken in the first three rounds in 2007 started at some point, and one was on injured reserve all season.

So while Harbaugh understands the value in having a rookie quarterback stand on the sideline for a while, that "for a while" is shorter these days than it used to be.

The advantage to Boller is simply this: It gives him an opportunity to hold serve. If he plays reasonably well throughout training camp, he will probably also be the starter in the regular season. And if the Ravens win early, he could conceivably keep the job and keep Flacco on the sideline. In the process, Boller could also do himself a lot of good financially as he plays through an extension year on his contract. But that's getting way ahead of things.

For now, Boller is the default starter, but it wouldn't be a shock if Smith also gets to run the first-team offense sometime during the preseason schedule. However, the inescapable bottom line is that either Boller or Smith will probably be keeping the spot behind center warm for Flacco.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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