Who will be the Ravens' quarterback?

OWINGS MILLS -- As John Harbaugh settles into his new job as the Baltimore Ravens' coach, one major item on his checklist hasn't abated in terms of curiosity. Whether Harbaugh is at the Ravens' headquarters or attending the annual NFL scouting combine, it's never long into a football conversation before the team's uncertain quarterback situation is broached.

During an interview Saturday with reporters in Indianapolis at the league's mass job interview for draft prospects, it was the second question raised for the first-time head coach as he held his first national press conference since being hired by team owner Steve Bisciotti last month.

While the Ravens have been fairly noncommittal on their plans under center, Harbaugh acknowledged that it's a position the team is looking to improve.

"It's an area we want to strengthen, just like every part of our football team," Harbaugh said. "I know we're going to use every resource to do that. There's a lot happening right now.

"We have three good quarterbacks on the roster right now. Steve McNair is the incumbent. He's been a great player in this league for a long time. A lot of guys at his position and his age have had pretty good seasons."

Between Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and other team officials, the message on McNair has been consistent: Don't rule out the four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Although McNair is coming off a career-worst season where he was hampered by back and groin injuries and is recovering from a December surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, he remains the most proven quarterback under contract in Baltimore.

McNair's age, injury-prone and reduced arm strength are the primary concerns.

Backup Kyle Boller has been erratic ever since the Ravens drafted him in the first round out of 2003, representing a blend of physical gifts and mental gaffes.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith displayed flashes of potential at the end of the season, but still has a lot to learn.

McNair has been working diligently at the Ravens' training complex to rehab his shoulder, trying to regain his range of motion and get in better condition than he usually is at this stage of the offseason. Last season, McNair threw two touchdowns, was intercepted four times and lost seven fumbles.

"We had a long conversation and we have daily talks," Harbaugh said of McNair. "He's been back to Mississippi, too. He's been living his life and working real hard."

The most likely scenario is the Ravens picking a starter from the quarterbacks currently on the roster with McNair representing the top choice while also looking to augment the position for the future through the draft. The Ravens are expected to spend a lot of time evaluating incoming rookies such as Boston College's Matt Ryan, Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco, Michigan's Chad Henne and several others.

"I know a little about Matt from being in Philadelphia," Harbaugh said. "We read about him all the time when he was in high school. The thing about him is that he's very tough, a multi-sport guy. He competes in everything he does. He's going to be a success wherever he ends up. As far as how that plays out, that's what televisions are for. You can watch."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are waiting for offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden to make a decision on his future.

Ogden has said he's leaning toward retirement, but the Ravens, including Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, have remained in communication with the 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle and are holding out hope that he'll return for another season. The biggest issue with Ogden, who restructured his contract to create $5 million in salary-cap room, is whether his nagging turf toe is going to hold up.

"I can tell you left tackle has been on Cam's mind a lot," Harbaugh said. "Jonathan Ogden, everyone knows what he's meant to the organization over the years. He's one of the greatest offensive linemen in the history of the game and he's going through a process right now of making a decision. When he makes that decision he'll let us know and everyone else know. We'll make some contingency plans in the meantime, so we'll see what happens.

"It's not a recruiting process with Jonathan Odgen. He'll make his decision. We just talked about family and history a little bit, values a little bit, just got to know each other. Tremendous conversation and a wonderful person."

NOTES: Cameron isn't attending the scouting combine due to personal reasons. "Cam has a personal situation, he's taking care of his family, so he's not here," Harbaugh said. "But Cam's already been involved in rating our quarterbacks in free agency and the draft as well as our football team." ... Harbaugh estimated that he has met with 75 percent of the roster. "That's been the most fun," he said. "Those guys are hungry." ... It was an expensive move to retain outside linebacker Terrell Suggs with the franchise tag, but Harbaugh considers it $8.065 million well-spent. "It was huge, and the great thing about it was that Terrell was excited about it," Harbaugh said. "He was fired up that he was going to be a Raven. Long-term and short-term, it's good for everybody."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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