Health in short supply for Ravens' QBs

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' unresolved, unstable quarterback competition was thrown a bizarre medical curveball that leaves rookie Joe Flacco as the last man standing at the moment.

With former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith suffering from an illness whose symptoms include swollen tonsils and being unable to keep fluids down and Kyle Boller extremely limited due to a sore throwing shoulder, Flacco is the lone healthy quarterback heading into the final preseason game.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Smith did not have his tonsils removed Monday as he visited a local hospital for further examination before returning to team headquarters in the afternoon. His condition is being treated with antibiotics.

Despite the grim outlook, the Ravens are still hoping that Smith could recover in time to be their starting quarterback in Thursday's preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons and play at least into the second quarter.

"We expect him to be ready, but that's not for certain," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We need to look at Troy. I don't think that's changed from what we talked about last week. We need to find out more about Troy. So, if Troy can go, he's going to play a lot in the game."

Harbaugh said that one of Smith's tonsils has swollen up, but didn't confirm if the former Ohio State star has tonsillitis.

"They described it to me as a tonsil issue," Harbaugh said. "He has his tonsils. I can say that I am 90 percent sure because one is swollen."

While Harbaugh was talking, team spokesman Kevin Byrne interjected and said that trainer Bill Tessendorf described it as a viral illness.

Meanwhile, Boller was restricted Monday to throwing passes 20 yards and under. He kept touching his right arm after each delivery.

Less than two weeks before a Sept. 7 season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, the unenviable situation has left the Ravens with perhaps the most unsettled quarterback issue in the NFL.

"It's a unique situation we have here," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We have three guys, three young guys, that are battling for a position that will determine how far we will go in this season. All three of them are still in the bag right now, and I guess after this game we'll empty the bag and see who is the starting quarterback."

The Ravens have installed a new offensive system under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but the play under center has had a negative effect.

The three quarterbacks have combined for just 453 passing yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

"It's weird how things work, coming right into the season and having two of the three guys battling different things, but we still have a couple of weeks before we really need to go," tight end Todd Heap said. "Joe is going to get a huge opportunity."

It has been a lot for Harbaugh to sort through as a first-year head coach.

"You just move forward," Harbaugh said. "You take the situation as it is and you attack it every single day."

Flacco played the entire game in a 24-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Saturday when Smith became so ill that he was confined to his hotel room for most of the game and Boller was unable to lift his arm over his head in warmups.

Flacco has thrown the only touchdown pass this preseason, completing 27 of 54 passes for 212 yards, no interceptions and a 66.3 quarterback rating. He has been sacked six times.

The first-round draft pick completed 18 of 37 passes for 152 yards against St. Louis, hitting Mason for a 15-yard touchdown during the opening drive of the second half after a rough start.

That score broke the Ravens' 10-quarter streak without a touchdown.

"I think he's in the mix because we have two quarterbacks who aren't able to practice," Harbaugh said. "The big picture hasn't changed dramatically in the sense that he's a rookie and we've got two guys who were ahead of him going into this situation that came up right before the game. That's kind of where we're at."

When asked to define his status, Flacco replied: "I don't know what they're thinking. All I know is I have to prepare myself as a starter, go out there every day in practice and try to get better."

Smith completed just 3 of 5 attempts for 25 yards and an interception as he started the second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Boller has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 142 yards, but has thrown two interceptions, fumbled once and has a 51.8 quarterback rating.

"Kyle is still very viable in the mix," Harbaugh said. "He's had really good practices all through training camp, and we would like to play him also in the game."

Mason acknowledged that the Ravens are dealing with unexpected dire straits this late in the preseason. In the wake of coach Brian Billick being fired, Steve McNair's abrupt retirement and All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden retiring in June, the Ravens are in flux.

"No, we're not in an ideal situation," Mason said. "We're not an ideal team right now. We're a very young team coming off a 5-11 season. Our tackle retired and our starting quarterback retired all in one year and we've got a new coaching staff.

"We're not a typical team right now, but our situation at quarterback isn't typical. You want that decision to have been made, but these three guys are battling hard. We have to let this thing play out and the coaches are doing the right thing. We all want to know who the starting quarterback is going to be."

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


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