Smith hoping to seize Ravens' starting job

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are handing the football off to Troy Smith as their starting quarterback Saturday night against the St. Louis Rams, granting him a prime opportunity to cement his status as the favorite to win the job.

The former Heisman Trophy winner is expected to play the majority of the game against the Rams, possibly as long as three quarters as the Ravens want to evaluate him heavily to determine whether he should start the season opener Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although Ravens coach John Harbaugh emphasized that he hasn't made up his mind yet on who will ultimately be the starter, Smith could effectively end a lengthy competition with a convincing performance this weekend.

While former starter Kyle Boller remains Smith's chief competition, he might not even play against the Rams and has committed three turnovers in two preseason games.

"He will play as much as we need to have him play to see what we need to see," Harbaugh said of Smith. "The thinking is that Kyle has had 42 starts and we have a good idea of what he is and what he's been. We need to find out more about Troy Smith.

"He needs those reps. He needs them against a defense in a third preseason game where they're game-planning him a little bit. We want them to know that he's going to be=2 0the guy so they will game-plan him a little bit, and we'll see how he does."

Smith has completed just 8 of 17 passes for 99 yards and no touchdowns on 47.1 percent accuracy with one interception. He has compiled a 41.1 quarterback rating, which is the lowest among the Ravens' three quarterbacks.

The former Ohio State star said he wasn't surprised to be named the starter for the third preseason game. Traditionally, that's when the starters play the most as they hone their timing for the regular season.

"No, I say that because I am confident in what I can do and what I will do," Smith said. "Obviously being a young player, I haven't had that much time on the field. I'm very, very thankful for the situation and the opportunity and I'm grateful for everything that is to come."

Harbaugh indicated that rookie Joe Flacco, who has been eliminated from the quarterback battle, may finish up the game after Smith.

Boller has completed 70 percent of his passes this preseason, but has been erratic as a starter since being drafted in the first round in 2003. He was absent from the locker room when reporters were present and didn't issue a comment on the decision.

Smith threw just five passes when he started the Ravens' 23-15 preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, completing three for 25 yards with one inter ception for a dismal 33.3 quarterback rating.

When asked if more throws will be in the game plan this week, Harbaugh smiled and replied: "I couldn't divulge that information."

Harbaugh said he wouldn't rule out accepting players' input on the quarterback decision. Of course, how seriously that feedback would be taken would depend on the credibility and experience of the player.

"You put a little more weight in certain guys over other guys, who have been around and watch the quarterback situation and who have had experience in the NFL," Harbaugh said. "But we'll listen to everybody. The door's open, and if they have a thought or insight or idea, we would love to hear it."

Accuracy has been a lingering issue for Smith, who threw two touchdowns with no interceptions as a rookie last season.

"It will come," Smith said. "Anytime you step into a situation where passes are going to be in the game plan, you want to hit them all, but this is not a perfect game. Nothing is perfect when you get out there on the football field.

"It's not the chalkboard. This is still the preseason. We've still have a long way to go, a long way."

Smith has traversed a long path already.

He has progressed from an afterthought recruit at Ohio State to winning the Heisman Trophy to initially riding the bench as a fifth-round draft pick last year to starting two games in relief of an injured Steve McNair and Boller to potent ially emerging now as the Ravens' starter.

After an inconclusive outing last week, this is his shot. If Smith doesn't falter, he could claim the job.

"Chances are going to come, opportunities are going to come," Smith said. "I have to make the best of them. I can't say that it's pressure."

Harbaugh acknowledged that the quarterback debate could extend into the season if no one assumes control of a position that has had a litany of failure in Baltimore with just a few exceptions.

"I hate to say it is what it is because that's a cliché, but it kind of is," said Harbaugh, reciting a familiar adage often cited by his predecessor, Brian Billick. "We think we have three really good quarterbacks who can play quarterback in this league, we really do. I'm excited to see somebody take it over.

"It's going to play out over a long period of time. It's going to happen up until the opener, and then, the truth of the matter is, as we all know, it's going to carry out through the season. And that's great because competition makes everybody better."

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


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