Ravens, Stewart make for odd pairing

OWINGS MILLS – Sporting a purple jersey as he joined the football team he used to torment, quarterback Kordell Stewart and the Baltimore Ravens make for an unusual pairing. "Who would have ever thunk that, right?" said Stewart, the mobile former Pittsburgh Steelers starter and current backup to starter Kyle Boller after signing a one-year contract for $760,000 on Thursday as the Ravens concluded a voluntary passing camp. "It's a little strange."

"I've always liked their uniform, but I hated it when I played against them. Now, I'm a part of it."

The 31-year-old former Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears starter has struggled for the last few seasons, compiling the lowest-quarterback ranking and completion percentage in the NFL last season. Yet, he hardly ever had trouble with the Ravens.

The multi-dimensional quarterback known as "Slash" owns an 8-1 mark against Baltimore, and is an unblemished 5-0 in games played in Baltimore.

"It's pretty nice, isn't it," said Stewart, who received an unfamiliar playbook, a familiar No. 10 jersey and only participated in a few individual drills. "I hope I can keep it that way."

Stewart is a Raven after drawing virtually no interest from other teams besides cursory looks from the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens needed a veteran backup since Anthony Wright can't throw a football for at least four months after undergoing shoulder surgery. For his part, Stewart needed a job.

The one-time Pro Bowl quarterback used to routinely evade Ravens defenders before uncorking spirals downfield. At Monday's veterans camp, he'll practice across from All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.

"I'm sure we'll have a couple of words for the first five seconds and then we'll be family," Stewart said. "Truthfully, I got tired of playing against him. Running from him didn't make my hamstrings feel any better."

Both Stewart and the Ravens acknowledged his past and current unpopularity with the majority of the team's fan base.

"In the back of fans' minds, I'm sure they'll always have questions, but if he plays for us like he did against us, they'll accept him," outside linebacker Cornell Brown said. "It's a big change for all of us to see him walk into our house. It's an even bigger shift for him, because there aren't a whole lot of friendly faces here. He's not the enemy anymore. Remember, we had Rod Woodson, too, and look how that worked out."

The Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV with Woodson, the former Steelers' All-Pro free safety. However, Stewart was the lowest-ranked passer in the NFL last season for the Chicago Bears with a 56.8 quarterback rating on 50.2 percent accuracy before being replaced by Rex Grossman.

Stewart once had beer poured on his head at a Steelers game. He was routinely booed when he lined up under center against Baltimore.

"Knowing that I have a winning mentality and I've won so many times against you guys, I think they will pretty much for the most part, accept it early on," Stewart said.

Boller ranked just ahead of Stewart statistically (62.4 rating) as a rookie while the reigning AFC North champions had the lowest-ranked passing game in the league and the top-ranked rushing attack behind Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis.

"When Trent Dilfer won, everybody wasn't giving him all the praise in the world, but this organization ended up getting a Super Bowl ring out of the deal," Stewart said. "All the hoopla about passing for 130 yards, 150 yards, as long as you win, that's what makes everything nice. No one was saying anything about it until they lost that last game."

The Ravens have assured Wright, who has a two-year contract worth $3 million, that he will regain his backup status when he recovers.

Stewart appears to understand his role, not sounding like a man who has designs on the starting job a la Jeff Blake.

"Kyle is the starter, and I'm here to help him," Stewart said. "If I have to go out and do my thing, I will."

Boller referred to Stewart as a "good dude," and joked while throwing him passes that he could play his position, too. Stewart once played receiver and running back for the Steelers, hence the "Slash" nickname coined by Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

The Ravens' current plan is to have Stewart strictly play quarterback, but Stewart said he's open to any ideas.

"That's like Clark Kent, always wears his suit, swimming with the ladies, then when it's time to put on his cape, he's Superman," Stewart said. "He's Clark Kent until he needs to be Superman. I'm Kordell Stewart until Slash needs to come out."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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