Former Heisman winner gets his turn to start for Ravens

BALTIMORE -- Troy Smith has his priorities in order. To be starting quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, he must earn respect in the huddle and protect the football.

Throwing a few touchdown passes ranks a distant third on his to-do list.

After relieving Kyle Boller in Baltimore's preseason opener last week, Smith gets his turn to start Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings. An efficient performance would go a long way toward earning the former Heisman Trophy winner the starting job when the Ravens open the regular season on Sept. 7.

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Asked what he would like to accomplish against Minnesota, Smith replied, "I would have to say being a leader, first. Stepping up, taking care of the ball. Ball security is always important for us, and putting some points on the board so we can get a win."

Ever since Trent Dilfer was quarterback for the 2000 Ravens team that won the Super Bowl, Baltimore has focused on avoiding turnovers and doing just enough offensively to supplement the team's potent defense. Interceptions and fumbles will not be tolerated, which explains why Smith, now in his second year, is pushing Boller for the starting job.

Boller did a fine job last week against the Patriots (11-for-15, 102 yards), but an interception and fumble took the glitter off his performance. Smith was a ho-hum 5-for-12 for 74 yards, but did not commit a turnover.

As a rookie, Smith went 40-for-76 with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He did, however, lose two fumbles.

First-year coach John Harbaugh would like to see Smith do more than merely protect the ball against the Vikings, who yielded 34 points last week in a loss to Seattle.

"We want to see Troy play quarterback well and do the things that winning quarterbacks do: Move the team, make good decisions, operate the offense and avoid the costly mistake," Harbaugh said.

But Harbaugh bristled at the suggestion that his quarterback would be better off playing conservatively than to risk going downfield or taking a chance with a pass in traffic.

"We want our offense to be aggressive. We never say, 'Don't turn the ball over.' It's aggressive ball security," Harbaugh said. "We want to score a lot of points and we want to secure the football. It's going to be the same thing with Troy. We're going to be aggressive in everything we do offensively. We're not buttoning anything down, ever. It's just not our mind-set."

The Ravens came to training camp with three quarterbacks vying for the starting position, but top draft pick Joe Flacco appears to have fallen behind Boller and Smith. Against New England, Flacco went 0-for-3 and lost a fumble.

Smith, meanwhile, can conceivably take the lead in the duel with a solid effort Saturday. But he has no intention of putting any extra pressure on himself.

"I don't think about things just in context of myself. It's about the team all the time," he insisted. "I'm just going to be myself. I'm going to step out there and try to be cool and calm and try to lead this team to a victory."

Like Boller, Smith will be operating behind a makeshift offensive line and without running back Willis McGahee, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this week. Baltimore's expansive injury list includes offensive tackles Jared Gaither (sprained ankle) and Adam Terry (sprained ankle), along with tight end Todd Heap (right calf).

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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