The Ravens' preseason game tonight against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome features more than quarterback Chris Redman attempting to stave off the challenge of rookie Kyle Boller along with the traditional mix of blocking, tackling and rookie anxiety. It involves perennial All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and Co. chasing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, one of the most multi-dimensional quarterbacks in league history. In scant seconds, Vick can vanish. Besides his uncanny athleticism, Vick is also capable of launching spirals all over the football field. He's slated to play most of the first half.
The Falcons are quick overall as they also feature active middle linebacker Keith Brooking, swift receiver Peerless Price and shifty running back Warrick Dunn. "With Michael Vick, it is a fast game and they are very kinetic defensively," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team won't have outside linebacker Cornell Brown because of a hamstring injury with rookie pass rusher Terrell Suggs doubtful with a neck injury. "They move around a lot. I was just telling the team the biggest difference they are going to see is this is a much more fast-paced team offensively and defensively."
The Ravens (0-1) have contained Vick as recently as last season, sans Lewis, in a year when the former Virginia Tech star and top overall draft pick emerged as a Pro Bowl selection in his first full season as a starter. Although Vick set a league record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 173 yards against the Vikings and finished the year with 777 rushing yards, the Ravens held him to minus-5 yards in a 20-17 loss. The Ravens sacked Vick three times last November, held him to a mere 136 passing yards and forced him into his first interception of the season. "I guess I am a different breed," Vick told reporters in Atlanta. "I have certain skills that nobody can match and no team can handle except Tampa Bay. I don't consider myself a running quarterback. "I use my legs because God blessed me with 4.3 speed. I consider myself a quarterback who does what it takes to win for his football team."
In a 27-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, Vick completed his first six passes for a quarterback rating of 158.3, the highest possible score in the NFL's complicated passing formula. "This is preseason and we're excited about the challenge because Vick is a heckuva athlete," Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We want to mostly evaluate our personnel. Otherwise, we would game-plan for him more. It's an interesting test."
Regardless of priorities, the Ravens are still eager to test their mettle against an athlete Billick describes as one of the most dynamic players in the league. Defensive end Adalius Thomas will pursue Vick from his normal defensive end spot along with shifting occasionally to outside linebacker. "We always want to play against the best," said Thomas, who sacked Vick once with a piece of another sack last season. "This defense always comes to play and we don't stop chasing you. Playing against Vick is a nice measuring stick, though." It's not as simple to diagnose where the Ravens' quarterback competition stands.
Redman started last week's 20-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills and his surgically-repaired back is no longer an issue. Redman efficiently marched the Ravens to one touchdown and he's been markedly sharper in practice this week. Boller, the first-round pick, electrified the crowd in the second half with a touchdown pass in the final minute to Randy Hymes. Anthony Wright hasn't been playing much in practice and didn't shine against the Bills. "Competition helps everybody," Billick said. "I've never been in a situation yet where a true competitor didn't gain from having someone push him."
Redman is expected to start again and play a little bit longer than a quarter, although it's possible that Boller may see his first work with the regular offense. The comparatively pedestrian Redman won't try to sprint around like Vick. He's working to establish himself again with presence and precise throws. "I'm feeling more comfortable with everything, but obviously competition makes you better," Redman said. "Obviously, we're trying for that chemistry. I think for any quarterback you have to develop yourself as a leader. I think leaders are starting to show up." Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.