Redman's uncertain future includes back surgery

Chris Redman entered this football season with all of the simultaneous optimism and doubt that his talent and the scant experience of three NFL passes creates. The Baltimore Ravens quarterback leaves this season with a herniated disc in his back that will have to be surgically removed next month to alleviate the pain, tingling sensations and lack of flexibility that abruptly cost him his starting job. Now, Redman, 25, faces a crossroads early in his football career, and these questions.

Will his back heal well enough for him to regain the improving form he demonstrated in his six starts?

Will the Ravens commit to Redman again as a starter in light of how veteran Jeff Blake, an unrestricted free agent whose one-year contract is about to expire, has done during his absence?

Those glaring questions remain unanswered entering today's regular-season finale against the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Redman's priorities at the moment are supporting Blake as his backup this afternoon and preparing mentally to undergo a surgeon's scalpel to address a problem that originally troubled him in college at Louisville and flared up again prior to the Ravens' 31-18 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 17.

"After two months, I thought I would be further along even though I'm feeling better," said Redman, a restricted free agent whose services will likely be retained by Baltimore (7-8). "I felt like I would be completely back by now, so that's very disappointing that I'm not. I have to get this back fixed."

Doctors have assured Redman that having the disc taken out will relieve the pressure he's feeling in his lower back, a condition that was regularly exacerbated by blindside hits from pass rushers.

Other than his right hamstring being so tight that he can't touch his toes yet, Redman isn't complaining. His arm strength, he says, hasn't gone away, but a recent magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed that the damage hasn't healed.

Still, Ravens coach Brian Billick made it abundantly clear in his Monday news conference that Redman would not play against the Steelers even though he's officially listed as the primary reserve to Blake. Billick has also repeated several times that he wishes he had more than six games to evaluate Redman as a starter.

 Examining Redman's progress over those six starts reveals a mixed bag common to young quarterbacks. With a 3-3 mark as a starter, Redman struggled initially, completing 50 percent of his passes in his first two games for 359 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

As he began to feel more comfortable in the offense and relied heavily on Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap downfield, Redman got better. In Redman's next four starts, he went 61 for 110 for 675 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. There was a string of 75 consecutive passes without an interception during that time, too.

"Definitely, I think over the course of those first six games, Chris was steadily working into the starting job," Heap said. "He wasn't making mistakes. He was really picking it up and getting better in the offense.

"It was too bad he had to get hurt and we had to start over with the new chemistry. I think he'll be fine after the surgery and gets another shot."

For the season, Redman completed 97 of 182 passes for 53.3 percent accuracy, 1,034 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 76.1

Redman flashed a soft touch on occasion, but struggled at times on deep patterns to locate his receiver in time. As expected, he wasn't that mobile, but he was resilient under heavy contact.

His best performances came in consecutive victories over the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns. Against the Broncos, he had a quarterback rating of 101.4. Against the Browns, he completed 19 of 30 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns for a career-high 106.0 quarterback rating.

Comparatively, Blake has completed 146 of 269 passes for 1,747 yards, a 54.3 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a quarterback rating of 74.1

"This is a business, so you never know who will be the quarterback," running back Jamal Lewis said. "I hope everything works out for Chris and Jeff. For Chris, surgery and rehabilitation is his upcoming season. Being the competitor that he is, he'll be able to get through it."

Like Redman, Blake is also unsure of his future. Like Redman, Blake wants to quarterback the Ravens in 2003, too. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated in an interview a preference for bringing both passers back, possibly setting the stage for an August quarterback competition.

"I haven't talked to them at all," Redman said. "I don't know what sort of impression to have. Right now, I just want to finish the season and deal with all of that other stuff after the season."


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