Does it matter?

ON THE RAVENS

With no clear winner, outcome insignificant

The quarterback competition

August 19, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

Question of the day: If the Ravens have a quarterback competition but they don't have a winner, was there really a competition?

The Ravens' starting quarterback will be decided by default. After nearly four weeks of practicing, which includes two preseason games, coach John Harbaugh still won't name a starter for Saturday night's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Is it Kyle Boller or Troy Smith?

Harbaugh said yesterday that he knows who the starter is going to be but isn't ready to announce his decision yet.

It made you chuckle because from what we've seen on the field, it makes little difference. There would be some suspense if this were John Unitas vs. Earl Morrall or Brett Favre against Aaron Rodgers.

But this is Smith vs. Boller. Who cares? Just flip a coin.

"We're not ready to announce it yet," Harbaugh said. "We'll talk about it later this week."

Can't wait. Most of us haven't felt this kind of suspense since our first kid was born.

But, seriously, it really doesn't matter. The winner of the competition will be the one who doesn't look as bad.

Boller is a better thrower but has poor mechanics with that ugly shot-put throwing motion. He has outplayed Smith in training camp, but Boller, in his sixth year, has very little upside. What you have seen is what you're going to get.

Smith has a higher upside, but not very high. He can make plays with his legs outside the pocket, which is what he'll have to do a lot of this season. On some plays, he can make any NFL throw, and then on the next, he'll throw a swing pass into the ground.

The players want Smith, and that's understandable because they've seen the Boller disappearing act before.

But Smith isn't the answer either. He's probably a backup quarterback at best. Neither Smith nor Boller can carry a team, and the Ravens don't have a strong enough supporting cast to carry either.

The team doesn't have a proven left offensive tackle, and its best right tackle is playing right guard. The Ravens don't have a big, vertical threat at wide receiver who can stretch defenses, and their best weapon in the passing game, tight end Todd Heap, will become a pass blocker on some plays.

Their best running back is on crutches after recently having arthroscopic knee surgery, and the Ravens are in transition with first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

And did we mention the Ravens don't have a starting quarterback?

It's easy to tell possible playoff-contending teams at the beginning of the season. There aren't many questions about their starting lineups. With the Ravens, there are questions galore.

So, go ahead and start Boller. Or go ahead and play Smith. It's no big deal. Before the season is over, we're probably going to see both of them. It might even become a carousel.

What about rookie quarterback Joe Flacco? Well, what about him?

The first-round pick out of Delaware isn't ready. He's big, mobile, bright and seems to have a passion for the game. He can make every throw, but can he do it quickly?

The key for the Ravens is getting Flacco caught up to the speed of the NFL. In two preseason games, he has held the ball because he can't process the game fast enough.

There's the speed of the game on the Delaware level and the speed of the game at Michigan or Alabama. It gets turned up a notch in the NFL preseason and then hits another level during the regular season.

Flacco is just starting to get a clue. He'll get better as the season goes on, and he'll eventually do well with the Ravens. But right now, he isn't, and shouldn't be, in consideration for the starting job.

It's a two-man show. It's Boller vs. Smith. Or is it Smith vs. Boller? There is no definite answer yet because Harbaugh is keeping it a secret. He wants to keep the Rams in suspense. He wants them to have to game plan for both quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, the entire city waits. Fans are buzzing. You've got a former first-round pick against a Heisman Trophy winner. Please, someone open the envelope. We want to see the winner of a competition that nobody really won, but somebody had to lose.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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