Ravens still counting on McNair

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As the Baltimore Ravens ponder their immediate future, they're banking on quarterback Steve McNair undergoing a career renaissance. Months removed from a disastrous season punctuated by a myriad of injuries, multiple turnovers and only a pair of touchdown passes, the Ravens are counting on a rejuvenated McNair.

As the incumbent starter, the four-time Pro Bowl selection remains a question mark due to groin and back injuries that limited him to six starts last season as well as undergoing surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

Although the Ravens are considering drafting a quarterback, potentially using their first-round pick on Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, the organizational stance is to use McNair as a bridge to the next franchise signal-caller.

"I'm confident that he can do it just because guys have done it before," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday at the annual NFL owners' meetings. "There's no way you can say for sure it's going to happen, but he's working hard. There's plenty of guys his age that have done it and done it well."

McNair had his rotator cuff repaired in December and has regained full range of motion in his left shoulder.

He's been advised by team officials that his playing status hinges on reporting in better condition and getting and staying healthy.

McNair had been regularly participating in the team's offseason program until missing last week due to family reasons.

"He's doing well, he's getting healthy," Harbaugh said. "He's doing almost all the lifts. He's throwing. He's doing good.

"He wasn't himself because of the injuries. Everybody attributes that to age. Is it a result of age or did he just have injury issues? We're going to find out."

The odds of McNair discovering his youthful form again after turning 35 in February appear to be long, particularly after a rough season where he was intercepted four times and lost seven fumbles while passing for just 1,113 yards.

During a franchise-record 13-3 campaign in 2006, McNair passed for 3,050 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

"The big challenge is keeping him clean as much as possible, giving him options to get the ball out as quickly as possible on a consistent basis," Harbaugh said. "He's getting in great shape. If he does that, he has a chance to stay healthy."

Last season, McNair completed 64.9 percent of his throws. However, the former league Co-MVP averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt.

"When people count Steve out, that's when he plays his best," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "I look for Steve to bounce back in a big way."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are still formulating their draft plans.

That means taking a serious look at a talented group of quarterback prospects.

"It's a very good class for the quarterbacks," Harbaugh said. "We're looking at all of them very hard."

Director of college scouting Eric DeCosta and director of pro personnel George Kokinis attended Ryan's Pro Day workout. Plus, general manager Ozzie Newsome has set up or already conducted private workouts and visits with other highly-regarded quarterbacks, including Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Michigan's Chad Henne.

When asked if the Ravens plan to draft a quarterback, Harbaugh replied: "I would say, 'yes.' If one is there, who knows? If the first quarterback drops to eight, we've got to be ready to say whether we want him or do we trade back or do we take somebody else.

"Ozzie hasn't told me what he's thinking on that. That's top secret. I do know that Matt Ryan is going to be a really good quarterback in the NFL."

When Harbaugh was an Eagles assistant coach, he noticed Ryan's Friday night exploits as a Philadelphia high school star. That respect has only grown over the years.

"Matt Ryan, he finds a way to win in the fourth quarter," Harbaugh said. "He's a big-time competitor. He's an accurate passer, he's big, he can scramble. He's smart.

"A lot of people are worried about his interceptions, but a lot of that is giving his receivers a chance to make plays, too."

In another pivotal situation, the Ravens are making preparations based on the assumption that offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden will retire. They haven't completely ruled out the possibility that Ogden, who's leaning toward retiring, might change his mind if his lingering turf toe injury improves.

"That's a wild card right now," Harbaugh said. "We assume that he's not going to be back. If he's back, it makes it a lot easier. "The equation is a lot tougher if he's not there. If he is there, it will simplify the whole thing. He's still thinking about it."

NOTES: Harbaugh predicted that the Ravens will strongly consider drafting a cornerback. Troy standout Leodis McKelvin is visiting the training complex this month. "We're going to need to draft a corner I would think in this draft," Harbaugh said. "There's going to be a run on corners in the first round, no question about it, and they can all play." ...

Harbaugh gave an upbeat report on linebacker Dan Cody, whose career has been derailed by knee injuries. "Cody looks like he's 100 percent right now," Harbaugh said. "That's a wild card. That would be a bonus for us." ...

Rather than shift left guard Jason Brown to center, former second-round pick Chris Chester is going to get the first crack at replacing Mike Flynn. "Chester is going to be the new center, so it's a rookie year for him," Harbaugh said. ...

Harbaugh is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the Orioles' April 20 game against the New York Yankees.

"I was going to throw my split-finger, but [team spokesman] Kevin Byrne said you got to keep it out of the dirt," he said. "It doesn't have to be a strike, right? I was never a pitcher. It might be about 65 mph."

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


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