Ravens make it official: Wright will start Sunday

OWINGS MILLS - Besides the tattooed right arm of quarterback Anthony Wright, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick has two additional reasons why he leapfrogged former starter Chris Redman into the offensive huddle: his legs. Wright's superior mobility was cited by Billick on Wednesday as a deciding factor in promoting the third-stringer to interim starter while rookie quarterback Kyle Boller recovers from surgery on a torn quadriceps.

When Wright is under center Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium, this will mark the 10th different starting quarterback since Billick became coach in 1999. Redman was blindsided by the status change despite his inept performance in the second half of the Ravens' 33-22 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday night. He expressed anger at himself along with frustration at the lost opportunity, but stressed that he didn't believe Billick had a personal vendetta against him. "That's a tough situation for Chris, but the reason we're going with Anthony Wright is that right now Anthony's physical attributes fit better with what we're doing," Billick said. "That is not Chris' fault. It's just a matter of Anthony's athleticism. That's the primary thing. "He fits more with what we do in both our running and passing game. I know it's tough on Chris. We've been down this road before. You all will make the characterizations you choose to make about it, and you will be wrong." 

With defenses stacking the line of scrimmage to deter NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis, Billick wants a passer who can beat single coverage outside and escape pass rushes. He hopes he has identified that player in Wright. Wright, 27, hasn't played in a regular-season game since being signed by the Ravens 14 months ago. His previous NFL experience includes eight games with the Cowboys with five starts for a 1-4 mark. Wright has been remarking for weeks how he wishes he could have led Bill Parcells' improved Dallas Cowboys. Wright was cut by Dallas last year after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in 2001 and then losing a competition with Quincy Carter last summer. Now, he gets another chance in Baltimore, albeit an abbreviated one, after being informed of his promotion Tuesday from Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. "I understand the situation," Wright said. "I feel like I am back in Dallas now. I was very surprised that they did call me in and tell me that I was going to be the starter. "I understand the pressure that comes with being a starter and I'm ready to deal with it. I think the biggest thing for me this weekend is to play under control, to play within my game and not try to do too much." 

A five-year veteran who went undrafted out of South Carolina, Wright has completed 46 percent of his passes for 766 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 50.8 quarterback rating. His last start was Oct. 15, 2001 against the Washington Redskins, when he engineered a win. His worst game ever was in 2000 against the Tennessee Titans when he completed 5-of-20 passes for 35 yards with two interceptions. Billick made an anti-climatic announcement at a team meeting Wednesday morning because few players were unaware of the quarterback shift. When third-string quarterback Ray Lucas was signed Tuesday, he inadvertently let it slip that Wright would start during Boller's convalescence. The majority of the players said they learned about the move through the media. "I found out from my wife," said tight end Todd Heap, a close friend of Redman's. "She called me and told me that she heard it on the news. I've got no clue what's going on, so, yeah, it caught me off guard. I'm not going to lie." 

Redman thought he was the starter until he learned otherwise from Billick and Cavanaugh on Tuesday that they had decided to go with Wright. The protégé of the late Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas went 3-3 as a starter last fall before a herniated disc led to Jeff Blake starting in his place before surgery this winter and a lost competition to Boller. Redman passed for only 58 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles against the Rams. Although Billick declined to speculate on what his decision would have been if Redman had excelled, Redman said he's certain that Sunday's woeful showing contributed to the downward shift on the depth chart. "It was definitely a shock," Redman said. "I was really looking forward to a whole week of practice to get things back in order, and I just wish I had that. "Anthony's game may be suited better. I think I could definitely take this team to the playoffs, but the decision has been made. I have to live with it and move on." 

Billick said Redman will remain the Ravens' backup behind Wright despite concerns about his confidence since the demotion in August followed by this setback. "I am going to try to help Chris through this as best I can," Billick said. "You can help an athlete, but at some point that confidence, that inner strength has to come from within. Chris has that. "I wish this could be different for him. I really do. I honestly do, but it is not and I'll wager that he handles it very, very well." The Ravens are accustomed to these changes in signal-callers. Dating back to the Ravens' post-Super Bowl season in 2001, Baltimore has started Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Redman, Jeff Blake and Boller. "This is how it's been since I've been here," said Heap, a Pro Bowl selection who has caught passes from all of those quarterbacks. "It's a big deal. It's a guy that has the ball in his hands every play. The quarterback plays a huge part." 

Redman is in the final year of his contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. It's a likely scenario that Wright will be Boller's backup next season and Redman will be seeking employment in another NFL city. "I know I can play at this level," Redman said. "Quarterback is not easy. It's a tough position and things like this are tough to handle, but I've always been a team guy. "This has been a roller coaster ride, but I'm a tough guy and I can handle it." 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories