Ravens gambling at backup quarterback

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
10:00
AM ET
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak recently pointed out what he loves the most about backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

"I know his goal is to be a starter in this league, and that’s what you want as a coach," Kubiak said.

To be honest, the Ravens can't say whether Taylor is a quality backup, much less a starter in the league. In three seasons, Taylor has thrown a grand total of 35 passes.

The Ravens are gambling at backup quarterback because they don't have a more proven passer behind Joe Flacco. Only six teams (New England, New York Giants, Denver, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland) have a No. 2 quarterback with fewer career pass attempts than Taylor, but four of those teams have a first- or second-round pick as their primary backup.

How the Ravens have prioritized the backup quarterback position has changed over the years. In 2010, the Ravens went with veteran Marc Bulger and paid $3.8 million to have one of the best backups in the NFL for one season. In the three years since, the Ravens have spent only $1.5 million on Taylor to be the No. 2 quarterback.

An argument could be made that the Ravens don't need an experienced backup. Flacco has started 109 games (including playoffs), which is the eighth-longest streak for a quarterback in NFL history and the third-longest current one (behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers).

But the Ravens understand that they're only one hit away from turning to their backup after Flacco took a shot to his knee last season. It turned out to be a sprained MCL, but it was the first time that the Ravens had to wonder whether Flacco was seriously hurt.

It's difficult to gauge the Ravens' confidence level in Taylor. During free agency, the Ravens showed interest in former Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, who eventually signed with the Cowboys. Coach John Harbaugh said this offseason that he was "disappointed" in how Taylor has played in games. And the Ravens then drafted Keith Wenning in the sixth round as a possible successor to Taylor as the primary backup.

In 13 regular-season games, Taylor has completed 19 of 35 passes (54.3 percent) for 199 yards. He has thrown no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 47.2 career passer rating.

Taylor didn't solidify himself in his last regular-season game. Last December, he had an interception returned 74 yards for a touchdown in a 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots.

But there are some observers, including Kubiak, who see Taylor as a good fit in this offense.

"He moves so well [and] keeps people honest when we run the ball that he can boot and do those types of things," Kubiak said. "But he’s impressed me as a pocket thrower. He’s bought into our steps and how we teach things and is just a bright young man. I feel a leader out there when he’s got our guys, and that’s important. So like I said, I’m very pleased with where he’s at.”

Being an effective pocket passer is the biggest challenge for Taylor. He has seemed more willing to run than make a play downfield, which is evident by the fact that he's had almost as many rushing attempts (23) as passing ones (35).

In this year's training camp, Taylor is still scrambling frequently and having passes batted down at the line when he remains in the pocket.

"[I want to] better myself from the pocket, showing people that I can throw from the pocket and make all the throws," Taylor said. "I know I have plenty of arm strength, but it’s about being accurate in this league and putting the ball where the receivers can catch and run, and that’s what I’ve been focusing on lately.”

This preseason is the most important one for Taylor, a former sixth-round pick who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. This has been the time of the year when he receives his most playing time, and Taylor should play at least a couple of quarters in Thursday's preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I know the backup quarterback position is definitely an important position, because you never know when you can go in, and when you go in, they expect you to play at a high level," Taylor said. "So, what I’ve always tried to put my mindset on is being the starter, attack my job as a starter throughout the week, whether it’s in the classroom or out on the field. Like I said, the opportunity can come whenever, and you have to be prepared at all times.”

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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