The Baltimore Ravens QB Derby continues this weekend when they visit the St. Louis Rams on Saturday evening for the team's third exhibition game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has still not named a starter for the game as of the time of this posting. However, based on the recent play of both Smith and Boller, it really doesn't matter who starts and who comes in for the second half. While I realize that the starter plays with the first team offense, but he also plays against the opponents first team defense. Likewise, the backup will play with and against the reserves. Is there an advantage one way or the other?
Neither Smith nor Boller has impressed coach Harbaugh to be a clear cut favorite going into the last part of Training Camp and the exhibition season. The QB Derby probably won't be decided until after the final preseason game, which means the Ravens will basically have one week to give their opening day starter full time reps with the first team, while most NFL clubs have been doing so since Training Camps began. For a Ravens team with one of the poorest records of offensive prowess, having an inexperienced QB get fewer snaps than the other teams' veterans is a scary thought.
My take on the QB Derby? It won't be coming down to who shines over the next two week's worth of exhibition games and practices. Nope, it will unfortunately, end up being decided by who sucks the less. Face it folks, neither of these two guys is the future of this team. It's the rookie from Delaware who should be loving every minute of this, as all it means to him is that most likely by the time the Ravens Bye week rolls around after their ninth game of the season, he has an excellent chance to take the reins from that point onward. If the Ravens continue to shuffle Smith and Boller based on their game-by-game success, er...I mean failure, then there is a statement of non-commitment that will only benefit Flacco in the long run, if not the short.
Look at what we have to expect. Here is a team with a history of poor QB play in their 12 years of existence. Wthout a doubt, their best QB was Vinny Testeverde, and that was over ten years ago. Don't give me the Trent Dilfer argument, as he was there not to win games, but to not lose them. Fortunately, in that magical season of 2000, he got the job done for the part of the season that he started (remember, he wasn't the opening day starter). The Ravens released him after the season and signed Elvis Grbac, who was coming off an All-Pro season and was a great pickup at the time (uh, before he lost his heart to play, cried like a baby and went home to retire). The Ravens still made the playoffs that next season, and there's no way they would have if Dilfer remained the team's QB. Remember, the Ravens lost Jamal Lewis to a season ending injury and had to rely on Grbac''s arm to even make it that far. Not even Dilfer fans could have expected him to carry us to the postseason.
But we digress. Let's face it, the same is true for 2008. How can we blindly expect either Troy Smith or Kyle Boller to lead us to the postseason through a 16 game season against some really tough opponents on our 2008 schedule. Even I had the Ravens missing the playoffs in my game-by-game predictions in earlier posts (although I did blindly have them finishing 10-6!). Even if virtually everything goes right and the QB ends up having a decent season, it will still be a huge surprise if the Ravens finish above .500. All the so-called experts have us remaining at the cellar of the AFC North, although I think the Bengals will steal that position from us, starting with a Ravens win on opening day, no matter who the starting QB is.
Regardless of who opens the season under center, it is almost a certainty that they will not finish the season in the same position. The future of this franchise is based on the strong arm of the young man out of the University of Delaware, who may stand at over six foot five in cleats, but now stands third on the depth chart. Whomever ends up first or second will not really matter in the long run, but it is becoming painfully obvious that the opening day starter will not win the job, but merely survive the loser.
Post Note: Wednesday, August 20th, 2pm: Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh has announced that Troy Smith will start at QB for Saturday's game at the St. Louis Rams. Should we read anything into this? Hmmm...