Smith to start against Vikings

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was nearly midnight, and the Baltimore Ravens' locker room was almost empty when Troy Smith was asked about the importance of his impending start against the Minnesota Vikings.

In the wake of the Ravens' 16-15 victory Thursday night over the New England Patriots, Smith is officially on deck in the Ravens' quarterback competition as coach John Harbaugh confirmed that the former Heisman Trophy winner will start against the Vikings on Aug. 16 at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Oh, that's vital," Smith said. "That's very important for myself and my development as a quarterback for this team."

Smith is slated to play the majority of the first half, just as Boller did against the Patriots.

With Boller slipping into old, bad habits with a lost fumble on linebacker Adalius Thomas' sack and an interception tossed to rookie linebacker Shawn Crable in heavy traffic, Smith could take a major step toward a legitimate bid to claim the job if he turns in a strong performance next week.

"We're looking at it as two games with balanced repetitions," Harbaugh said. "What they do in the game is the biggest indicator. That's not to say that practices are not important.

"Some of it is going to be gut on the part of the coaches, but the game is important. In the end, we just have to go with the guy that we feel is going to give us the best chance to win the next game. If that's a gut decision, that's what it is."

Boller completed 11 of 15 passes for 102 yards for a 63.8 quarterback rating while playing nearly the entire first half. He completed his first five passes and had two dropped.

If not for the pair of turnovers, it was a sterling performance. However, those miscues overshadowed outstanding zip on his throws and adept play-action fakes.

"There are a few plays I wish I could take back," Boller said. "The offensive line did an amazing job of blocking and letting me step up in my throws. Those two plays, you just have to eliminate the turnovers.

"You try as much as you can to keep your hands on the ball, but when you're ready to throw it, sometimes it slips out. It's a learning curve, and we learn from this game and get better next week."

Smith's performance wasn't exactly Pro Bowl material, either. He went 5 for 12 for 74 yards and no touchdowns for a 62.5 quarterback rating. His best plays were connecting with Darnerien McCants for 30 yards and Justin Harper for 18 yards.

"A couple throws I wish I could have back, but that's part of the game," Smith said. "I think there's so much more we can improve on as quarterbacks."

His most important statistic was zero, as in no interceptions or turnovers. In 76 throws as a rookie last year, the former fifth-round draft pick threw two touchdowns with no interceptions with 52.6 percent accuracy in two starts when Steve McNair and Boller were hurt.

"I thought Troy was poised," Harbaugh said. "He threw some NFL balls in there. That ball across the middle in the fourth quarter was a heck of a throw. He scrambled around and did a nice job."

Harbaugh acknowledged that he could pick a starter before the third preseason game, or not. He offered no concrete timetable at this juncture.

"I don't know that we'll know who the starter is going to be," he said.

Typically, the third preseason game is regarded as a dress rehearsal for the regular season with starters rested liberally in the preseason finale.

When asked if he viewed the Vikings game as a make-or-break night for his candidacy, Smith replied: "I haven't stepped into the situation any day in practice, saying my performance will help me or not help me. I try to approach this the same way."

Meanwhile, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco had a rough introduction to the NFL in his first game since being drafted in the first round.

While playing with reserve offensive linemen who may not make the team, the former Delaware star went 0 for 3, losing a fumble and was sacked twice.

Despite the chaotic initiation, Flacco didn't seem fazed by his lack of immediate success.

"It was a good learning experience for me," Flacco said. "They're good at getting to the ball and I realize that. I have to do a better job of protecting the ball.

"I pride myself on staying calm. Just the fact that you are going to play against NFL players, that was just cool. You have to realize that you are one of them now, and that you belong here."

Flacco closed out the game by kneeling on the football in the victory formation. Afterward, Harbaugh approached the big rookie with a few words of encouragement.

"Joe is going to learn very fast and he's a smart guy and he works his tail off," Harbaugh said. "It will not be long before he's not making those kinds of mistakes and starts making some great plays for us.

"Confidence is not going to be a problem for Joe. He's a talented guy and knows that he's going to be a heck of a player in this league. He'll be fine. That's what you have to go through."

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

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