McNair, Ravens untroubled by rough start

LANDOVER -- The launch of the Steve McNair era actually resembled a few of the roadblocks encountered by his unsuccessful predecessors with the Baltimore Ravens.

In a controlled scrimmage against the Washington Redskins on Saturday that marked his Baltimore debut against another football team, the Ravens' new franchise quarterback attempted to locate wide receiver Devard Darling downfield. However, they weren't on the same page.

McNair never saw linebacker Marcus Washington lurking in the middle of the field, and Washington returned the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player's second pass of the day 39 yards for a touchdown before 47,258 raucous fans at FedEx Field.

The Ravens and McNair saw no cause for alarm, though, as he settled down to complete 5 of 6 passes for 30 yards during his 11 plays as Baltimore sustained a 16-14 loss.

"It went smooth after the first turnover there," McNair said. "It was a miscommunication between the receiver and the quarterback, but, at the same time, that's what you practice for to get those kinks out. After that, everything smoothed out.

"I felt very comfortable. I'm not trying to rush myself. I'm just going to continue to grasp this offense and the terminology. I just have to be patient and learn this offense and not get frustrated."

The Ravens traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Tennessee Titans to acquire the three-time Pro Bowl passer, signing him to a $32 million contract and demoting erratic former starter Kyle Boller.

McNair appeared to gain momentum as the scrimmage wore on, completing an 11-yard pass to tight end Daniel Wilcox and hitting tight end Todd Heap on consecutive plays for a first down. The Ravens were threatening to score when the drive was aborted under the scrimmage's format.

"He was pretty good and in rhythm," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Steve had to execute it for the first time in a live situation. We have a long way to go."
Billick emphasized that the blame for the turnover shouldn't be placed on McNair's shoulders.

"That was our fault," he said. "McNair was put in a tough situation."

McNair renewed his old connection with former Titans teammate Derrick Mason during seven-on-seven drills, but didn't complete a pass to him during the full-team drills.

"We've been through a lot of battles together and we missed that year, but I think the connection will still be there," Mason said. "I think when you look at the big picture we will work very well together again."

Meanwhile, first-round draft pick Haloti Ngata had a mixed initiation to the NFL.

The 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle shoved around the Redskins' offensive line for a sack, but he suffered a Stage 1 medial collateral ligament sprain of his left knee. Team officials estimated that he might be back in a few days.

"According to our doctors, he could have gone back in," Billick said.

Afterward, Ngata's knee was wrapped up, but he wasn't limping much afterward. He said he believes he should be sidelined for a minimal amount of practice.

"It's not serious," Ngata said.

McNair and Ngata weren't the only newcomers who had a rough experience against the Redskins.

Former Denver Broncos running back Mike Anderson, who was signed to an $8.1 million contract in the offseason, sustained a mild concussion while picking up a blitz on the play that McNair threw an interception.

On a separate play, Anderson was drilled by hard-hitting Redskins safety Sean Taylor when he went airborne to clear a pile of bodies.

"It's kind of like getting your bell rung and I never had that happen before," said Anderson, who was held to three yards on three carries. "I'll be fine. I'll take a day off and I'll be back out there."

Running backs Musa Smith (23 yards, five carries) and P. J. Daniels (31 yards, six carries) had strong games filling in for Anderson.

Especially Smith, who demonstrated good body lean and power.

"He looked good and strong," Billick said.

Smith seems to have made a complete recovery from a gruesome broken leg he suffered two years ago on a horse-collar tackle by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams,

"It felt real good to just get back into the flow of things," Smith said. "The attitude is one of gratitude. I'm grateful to be back and doing some great things out there. I think I'm having a great camp."

Boller looked sharp and seems to be adjusting well to being a backup following a three-year tenure as the starter.

He completed 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards, tossing a 4-yard lob for a touchdown to former Maryland tight end Rob Abiamiri. Later, third quarterback Brian St. Pierre hit Romby Bryant on a 24-yard spiral for the Ravens' other touchdown.

"He is playing with a group where you have to be inventive," Billick said of Boller. "He did some good things."

Boller connected twice with undrafted rookie Travis Latendresse for 43 yards.

Despite the obscure players in the huddle, Boller appeared to have improved command and accuracy.

"It's different because you've got to help teach those guys," he said. "Those are the guys I've been playing with. Move the ball, it doesn't matter if you're first, second or third."

Although the Ravens didn't escape completely unscathed with injuries and McNair had a less-than sterling outing, Billick was generally encouraged.

Whereas in the past a turnover might have unnerved previous Ravens' quarterbacks, McNair seemed to take it in stride.

"He is so calm and poised," Billick said. "If he's nervous or anxious, you wouldn't know it. "

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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