Blake is biding his time

His arm has figuratively been on ice for two years. Jeff Blake would like some exercise. Strictly confining his trademark rainbow spirals to the practice fields of McDaniel College in Westminster isn't exactly his portrait of an ideal situation. The Baltimore Ravens' veteran backup quarterback understands his assigned role behind Chris Redman. He's also quick to say he has lost absolutely nothing from his game.

And the former Pro Bowler isn't shy about expressing his desire to become a starter again after losing his position to Aaron Brooks in New Orleans due to a fractured and dislocated foot.

Speculation is rampant around the league that it's only a matter of time before Blake is promoted over Redman.

Only the Ravens' plan for this season is to find out if Redman, who has thrown exactly three NFL passes, can handle the job. They've stressed that there isn't going to be a competition, or any quarterback controversy.

Blake is an extremely qualified insurance policy in case Redman falters or gets injured.

"I haven't lost anything," said Blake, who has thrown for 17,199 yards, 106 touchdowns and 72 interceptions in 11 seasons. "I'm the same player, but you have to prove yourself everyday to erase people's questions about you. I'm grasping the offense very quickly. "I'm fine with being a backup for now. I'm still going to go out and do my thing, do the things I'm good at.

"That's just the way I am. I'm a very competitive person."

The Ravens discovered that right away.

A common sight during the club's minicamps was Blake vocally challenging defenders like cornerback Chris McAlister to make a play, any play on the football at all. At training camp through one week of work, Blake continues to shine, looking sharper than Redman in his opportunities to test the Baltimore defense.

The mobility Blake sports is a bonus, too. He has career rushing marks of 1,739 yards and 11 touchdowns. No matter how well Blake performs in training camp or in preseason games, though, it's unlikely that the Ravens will deviate from their stated plan. Redman will get every conceivable opportunity to establish himself.

At age 25, the former third-round pick from Louisville is the future. Blake, 32, will have to bide his time.

"We made it very clear to Jeff that that this is not going to be an open competition," Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "but Chris understands that life in the NFL is, ‘What have you done for us lately?' They understand what their roles are.

"Jeff's very enthusiastic about the game and you've got to love that. He's just a ballplayer. He has a natural easy demeanor about him. I think he and Chris will have a good, solid relationship."

Blake has a history, though, of not wanting to settle for second.

When Blake was playing for his father, Emory Blake, at Seminole High School (Fla.), the major football powers like Miami, Florida and Florida State all wanted to sign him to a scholarship. The caveat was that Blake would have to play defensive back, or some other skill position other than quarterback.

So, he spurned their offers and chose East Carolina, a smaller Division I-A school in Greenville, N.C. Blake put the Pirates on the map in 1991, leading the school to an 11-1 record, a top 10 ranking, a victory in the Peach Bowl and upset wins during the season over Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

He set 32 school records and finished in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Initially, success as a pro eluded him in two seasons with the New York Jets.

With the Cincinnati Bengals, his career began to take off. In 1995, he made the Pro Bowl after throwing for 3,822 yards and 28 touchdowns. That's his finest season to date.

In 11 starts in 2000 before getting hurt, Blake completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,025 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Once the Saints settled on Brooks, Blake became expendable. New Orleans cut him this spring after playing him in one game last year.

"Sometimes, organizations say things about a player to keep other teams from dealing with them, saying, ‘He's not the same player,'" Blake said. "They know what he can do, but teams try to belittle players. It's bad for guys' careers, but they don't want to pay players. It's a shysty business sometimes."

Both Blake and Redman have said they get along fine, although Blake has stressed that he's not here to tutor the younger passer. He said he'll answer any of Redman's questions, though.

"Jeff's a good guy," Redman said. "I've heard nothing but great things about him. He's a smart individual and I'm looking forward to getting to know him better."

Blake signed a one-year contract in April for the veteran minimum of $750,000. Baltimore reduced his salary cap figure to a reported $450,000 by releasing him briefly for a few hours this summer in a maneuver to take advantage of a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement.

The move didn't bother him, Blake said, because the Ravens explained their intentions.

"It was just a business thing," Blake said. "They're pretty upfront about what they do. I ain't going nowhere. I've got all my furniture and stuff up here.

"I'm here to stay and I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to do my part."


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