McNair primed for Ravens debut

WESTMINSTER -- Steve McNair has the battle scars and resume of a veteran accustomed to the hard-knock life of an NFL quarterback.

Despite all of his considerable experience, including shouldering his team to within a yard of a potential Super Bowl title, sharing MVP honors with Peyton Manning three years ago and the grit of undergoing six major surgeries, McNair is far from nonchalant about what tonight means to him personally.

The Baltimore Ravens' new franchise quarterback acknowledged that his debut at M&T Bank Stadium against the New York Giants will be accompanied by two dueling emotions.

"I'm very excited, a little nervous, but that's part of it," McNair said. "At the same time, I've been doing this a long time. I think after the first play, things will settle down and I'll be back to normal.

"The most important thing is execution while you are out there and getting some rhythm going early. During the plays that I'm going to be out there, I want to look sharp and crisp."

Those aren't two adjectives normally associated with the Ravens' litany of past quarterback failures.

The Ravens are banking on McNair emerging as a major exception to the rule. They traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Tennessee Titans in June to acquire McNair, who signed a $32 million contract and immediately supplanted erratic former starter Kyle Boller.

Sporting quiet confidence and a calm demeanor, the 12-year professional's skills will be displayed for just an abbreviated time period against the Giants.

Ravens coach Brian Billick has scripted the starters for 15 to 20 snaps, or roughly the entire first quarter. He has a specific agenda for McNair, who settled down after a rough start in a scrimmage Saturday against the Washington Redskins where his second pass was intercepted by linebacker Marcus Washington and returned for a touchdown.

"Articulate the offense," said Billick, outlining his goal sheet for McNair. "I expect a check or two, pick up a blitz or two and just execute the game plan basically.

"If it's one drive, it's one drive. We're getting more and more like baseball with a pitch count: 15 or 20 snaps."

McNair appears to have grasped the offense quickly. He no longer has to consult his teammates in the huddle or use wide receiver Derrick Mason as a constant cheat sheet.

The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback went through a crash course of summer school with offensive coordinator Fassel, who cut short his Montana vacation to get McNair up to speed.

"So far, Steve has picked up everything pretty good," said Fassel, the former Giants head coach. "He's definitely lived up to all our expectations. It's not surprising to see him pick things up fast. Steve kind of knows what's coming.

"Now, I want to see it under game conditions. This is the first time where a quarterback is live where they have to take that hit and get back up, or avoid a guy and make a throw. He's got to get into the flow."

McNair went out of his way to emphasize that he's not a one-man gang and that defenses will need to account for several teammates, including Mason, tight end Todd Heap, running backs Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson and receiver Mark Clayton.

"Well, they can worry about me, but the 10 other guys are still accountable, too, and I think that's the thing that other people don't understand," McNair said. "We have great athletes on this offensive unit. You look at those guys and wonder: Who do you prepare for? Who do you try to stop?

"When you have everyone on the same page on this offense that we're going to have, it's hard to prepare for me and it's hard to prepare for any guy on this offense."

Although the Ravens won't be competing against Giants linebacker LaVar Arrington, who's out with a knee injury, McNair is eager to test himself and this offense against a defense that features Pro Bowl defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

This game will also likely mark the first contact McNair has absorbed since playing in the Pro Bowl in February as quarterbacks aren't allowed to be hit during practice.

"The first preseason game is always the most important," McNair said. "You want to go out there and have a good showing. You don't quite worry about the hits.

"You just worry about the execution and how crisp and sharp you are. The most important thing is to get a sense of where we are, what we need to work on and what we need to continue to do."

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

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