Kevin Cowherd: Without Marc Bulger, Ravens walking tightrope at backup quarterback

August 03, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd

I want to know how well John Harbaugh slept Wednesday night after hearing that Marc Bulger retired.

I want to know how well Ozzie Newsome slept, too, knowing the Ravens' backup quarterback right now is Tyrod Taylor, the rookie out of Virginia Tech.

This is no knock at Taylor, who seems like a nice kid and may very well end up being a legitimate NFL quarterback.

But if you're a team with a real shot at the Super Bowl, do you really want a guy who was your sixth-round draft choice taking snaps if your starting quarterback goes down?

Against, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11?

Uh, I don't think so.

Which is why I'm betting Newsome is burning up the phone lines, trying to land a quality veteran — if any are out there — to back upJoe Flacco.

Do names like Brodie Croyle and Jake Delhomme and Todd Bouman do anything for you? How about J.P Losman and J.T. O'Sullivan and Chris Simms?

I'm not sure they do much for the Ravens, either. But they might have to roll the dice soon and make a move, no matter how unexciting the choices.

To the Ravens' credit, though, no one at the Castle was freaking out Wednesday when news of the Bulger retirement became official.

On talk radio, the subject had already whipped Ravens fans into a DEFCON-1 panic. But after practice, Harbaugh seemed remarkably calm — hell, even cheerful — when asked whether there was a chance the Ravens would sign a veteran to back up Flacco.

"There's a chance," he said. "We'll see how our young guys do. See how No. 6 [Taylor] does … and try to figure it out from there."

Me, I don't think there's a whole lot to figure out here. There's no way this team can be comfortable with a guy as green as Taylor a heartbeat away from the starter's job if Flacco goes down.

Sure, the Ravens know Flacco's a tough guy. They know he's never missed a start in his three seasons with the Ravens.

They know he can play through pain, too — he played with a deep bruise two years ago that left him stiff and grimacing on every late-season hit, with his thigh the color of eggplant.

But this is the NFL we're talking about. Players get carted off the field all the time in the regular season. Quarterbacks drop like flies.

All it takes is some big, fat lineman rolling on a quarterback's knee or ankle, or some kamikaze linebacker coming with a blind-side hit, to put him out for the season.

That's why the Ravens were so eager to sign Bulger, the two-time Pro Bowl selection with the St. Louis Rams, as Flacco's backup last year.

And it's why Harbaugh grew more serious Wednesday when pressed about whether he was concerned about the alarming rate at which quarterbacks get injured in this league.

"Oh, yeah, obviously," he said. "Your backup quarterback is one play away from being your starting quarterback."

By the way, is there a better job in the world than backup quarterback in the NFL?

Basically, all you do is stand on the sideline with a clipboard and your cap on backward and try to look interested during timeouts when you huddle with the coach and the starter.

And you can make a Brinks truck full of money for doing it, too. Bulger, he made, what, $3.8 million last year?

That's pretty good for a guy who never took a snap when it counted. A guy who never got a grass stain on his uniform. A guy who never needed a shower after a game.

So now, the Ravens are in something of a holding pattern when it comes to their backup quarterback.

They're giving Taylor a ton of reps, hoping to get him up to speed with the offense as soon as possible.

But you can also bet they're looking at every free-agent quarterback and trade possibility out there to land Flacco's backup.

"This year, there's not as many guys available at this late stage," Harbaugh said. "But there's a few veterans. I'm also confident that in a week or two, there will be some veterans available if we decide to go that route.

"But right now, we want Tyrod to get the reps."

Well, OK.

In the meantime, I'd put a 24-7 security detail on Flacco to make sure nothing happens to him. I wouldn't let a defender get within 20 yards of him during practice, either.

Forget those red vests the quarterbacks wear, the ones that signal "no contact." I'd have Flacco outfitted with some kind of neon-orange outfit, with sirens going off if anyone comes too close.

You can't be too careful with the guy now.

But the Ravens know that better than anyone.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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