Double vision 20/20 for Harbaugh

November 02, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

You have to give John Harbaugh a lot of credit for how he handled the twisted quarterback situation on the very first NFL team of which he has been in charge.

Not "should" give him credit. Not "ought to." Have to.

Above all else, Harbaugh is a man of his word. In August, when he was down to one quarterback, he refused to snip Troy Smith out of the picture. No matter how ill Smith was, no matter how well Joe Flacco played, no matter how convenient it would have been.

Harbaugh didn't waver. The messages he sent in the ensuing weeks seemed baffling at times. They don't seem baffling now. Not after what he and Cam Cameron unveiled last week against the Oakland Raiders - the "Suggs Package." He just never intended for his chatty linebacker to get credit for it - but even with that, he was secure enough to let Terrell Suggs get the punch line and explain his way out of an awkward moment without adding to the public condemnation.

It was a smart way to deal with it as a strategist and a fair way to handle a player dealt a bad hand. Flacco had done nothing to lose his starting job, and Smith had done nothing to lose his, either. And the team had done nothing to deserve being denied the services of two players who could be effective in the same game, even (as we now know) on the same play.

Harbaugh took care of everybody, kept everybody on board with it, headed off a possible locker-room schism (although that was largely overblown, as was most of what Suggs said in his infamous radio spots the week before last) and has the faithful eating it up. For a while, there was a nasty, slightly below-the-radar spat going on between fans of Flacco's and Smith's, but that has evaporated since the Raiders game.

Replacing it has been a surge of excitement about the Ravens' offense unseen since ... uh ... OK, a surge of excitement about a Baltimore offense unseen since the Bert Jones days.

Nice work for a rookie - and I don't mean Flacco.

After Week 2, the hurricane-forced bye, Smith was cleared to return to light workouts after his ugly bout with a tonsil infection. The fan base had already become enamored of Flacco after his first start. Harbaugh could have played along. Had he said the quarterback situation was settled and Smith would have to deal with the tough break, not many would have fought him.

Instead, the coach said of his ailing, underweight former starting contender: "We think he's a heck of a quarterback, and he's going to make our team stronger when he comes back. ... [The decision] is going to be partly medical and football strategy - what role can he play to help us win, where Joe is at and where the offense is at. I know one thing: When he comes back, it's going to be a big plus for us."

Two weeks later, Harbaugh repeated his plans for Smith as he returned to full practice. The next week, he named Flacco the starter for the rest of the season and still said Smith would not only play eventually but also contribute significantly. The general reaction was confusion.

Nearly a month later - and more than two months after Smith was scheduled to get his final dress rehearsal - it all makes sense. You don't know what the Ravens are going to try to pull off today in Cleveland with Flacco and Smith, and you can't wait to find out.

It's nice feeling that way, isn't it?

Thank the new head coach and his deft handling of a quarterback time bomb. Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

points after

* Today's Ravens game in Cleveland, home of the yearly team staph infection, is BYOB - Bring Your Own Bleach.

* Mike Singletary isn't exactly proceeding with caution or feeling his way around with his first head coaching job, is he?

* The solution to the long baseball season that never crossed my mind until Wednesday night: starting every game in the sixth inning.

* When you lose to Middle Tennessee State and Virginia (31-0, yet) and are still nationally ranked, either you're having a good season or the rest of college football isn't.

* Overdue NBA predictions: the New Orleans Hornets over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, with LeBron James as the regular-season Most Valuable Player.

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