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Trio of Ravens quarterbacks begin friendly competition

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- All three Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks seem to genuinely like each other, which makes for a rather friendly competition in their bid to claim the starting job.

On the first day of training camp Tuesday, Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and Joe Flacco spoke about working together to make Baltimore a better team. They insisted that the three-way duel would only serve to improve each of them in the days leading up to the Sept. 7 opener against Cincinnati.

Quarterback quandary

The Ravens will open the 2008 season with one of these men under center. Which one will adapt to new offensive coordninator Cam Cameron's system and secure the starting job?

Kyle Boller
Boller has five seasons and 42 game starts under his belt. He's thrown 45 touchdown passes, but he's also been picked off 44 times.

Joe Flacco
Flacco hasn't taken a snap in the NFL but after signing a five-year, $30 million contract, he could prove his worth in training camp and become the Ravens QB of the future right now.

Troy Smith
Former Heisman winner Smith made a solid debut last year, starting the final two games after Steve McNair and Boller were sidelined with injuries.

"Any way I can help Troy and Joe out, I'm going to do it," said Boller, whose 42 career starts is 40 more than the other two quarterbacks combined.

Flacco, the Ravens' top draft pick in 2008, said, "It's not anything really against the other guy. We're able to come out here and practice and get along and talk to each other about what went on during the plays. So, I think it's a pretty good relationship."

While first-year coach John Harbaugh appreciates the tight friendship his quarterbacks have formed, he stressed that congeniality will not be considered when it comes time to choose his starter.

"It's not really a nice guy contest. We like nice guys, but it's a quarterback contest," Harbaugh said.

And although Boller, Smith and Flacco uttered all the right things Tuesday, Harbaugh knows there was plenty left unsaid.

"The fact that they're friends, and the fact that they're good guys, and they take the attitude that they're going to be as good as they can be and help the next guy be as good as he can be, that's just being good guys and good sports," Harbaugh said. "But make no mistake about it: Every one of those three guys wants the job."

There wouldn't be a competition if Steve McNair hadn't retired during the offseason. Boller settled comfortably into his role as a backup behind McNair in 2006, but when McNair battled injuries last season, Boller was elevated to the starting role.

Soon after his inconsistency became an issue, Boller received a concussion late in the season and gave way to Smith, who started the final two games as a rookie and ended up throwing 76 passes without an interception.

Now, it's anyone's guess who will be Baltimore's next starting quarterback.

"As teammates, we understand that we might need all three of us. That's how we look at it," Smith insisted.

Boller has the experience. Smith, the most elusive of the trio, earned a reputation as a winner at Ohio State and owns a Heisman Trophy. Flacco has never played in an NFL game, but was labeled the team's "quarterback of the future" by general manager Ozzie Newsome on draft day.

Flacco's inexperience could work against him, even though Boller started as a rookie in 2003. In hindsight, the Ravens believe Boller might have matured quicker had he launched his career as a backup.

"I would have to say it hurt him. It retarded his development because he never got a chance to really learn," Newsome said. "He had to play. There is a way you have to be developed. We were a pretty good team asking him to do some things not to hurt the football team, and that's a hard way to play."

Said Boller: "I got great game experience. I'm not the type of person that looks at the past. I played, I learned a lot and now I'm going into my sixth year. We'll see what happens. I'm not going to say one can or one guy can't."

The winner of the competition will probably be the one who best grasps offensive coordinator's Cam Cameron's complex attack and proves he can protect the football while under duress. In that regard, each quarterback is starting on even footing, because Cameron's offense is vastly different from the one deployed by former head coach Brian Billick.

"It's like night and day," Smith said.

That's one reason why Boller, Smith and Flacco feel like they're in this together.

"This is too challenging of an offense to be thinking only of yourself," Smith said. "It has to be about team."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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