Ravens appear to be caught by the throat

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Every minute that it gets closer to Thursday night’s game time, we get closer to the reality of quarterback Troy Smith being unable to play once again due to his lingering illness.

Oh, the Baltimore rumor mill is hard at work. They’ve been flying in.

It’s pretty clear that Smith is really sick. We’ve heard that it’s his tonsils. We’ve heard (but have not reported) hospital rumors, visits and tonsilectomies. You name it, and our phone is ringing with a story about Smith.

We know that it’s at the very least a pretty severe case of strep throat and it’s kept Smith away from the team since Saturday’s preseason game in St. Louis, which became even more interesting once the team announced that Kyle Boller had a mysterious shoulder issue as well.

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But here’s the truth: the Ravens needed Smith – or Boller — to play last week and they’d prefer that one of them would be playing on Thursday night against the Falcons. They have a season that’s gonna start in 12 days with or without an experienced or healthy quarterback.

Welcome to the NFL hot seat, John Harbaugh! These are the situations that don’t come with a textbook or a compass, how to make decisions under fire when most of your options aren’t ones that will necessarily lead to victory.

Right now, the Ravens appear to have no more choices than they did  in St. Louis.

So, it’s pretty apparent that Saturday night was really an unfortunate 11th hour fiasco. (And I’m not just talking about Ravens’ fans being subjected to the horrible broadcast that MASN and WBAL put together for us!)

Smith gets ill, and who would be foolish enough to question how sick he was with a starting QB job on the line in the third (and most significant) preseason game pending? It’s pretty clear that if there was ANY WAY the Heisman winner could get on the field he certainly would’ve done it.

And how about Boller? Think HE didn’t wanna run out there and try to throw three TD’s and take back the job I’m sure he feels is rightfully his. Doubt Boller’s ability all you want but he’s proven time and again to be a gamer.

So it fell to Joe Flacco, the LAST guy they’d like see on the field in ANY position to start the season. (I think most in the building are intoxicated by his ability but scared to death to start him because of what’s become of Boller and many other young quarterbacks pressed into service or trial by fire. This would be one of the many sins attributed to Brian Billick in the old testament.)

Turns out, Flacco not only took the assignment but didn’t come close to stinking the joint up at all. He was actually “promising” and we haven’t heard that about a quarterback here since, well…it’s been a long time!

But there are only five days between games and they’re “just” preseason games, but if there was any hope of seeing Smith or Boller “gel” with the first string unit, it doesn’t appear to look promising for Thursday night.

So, it just might be the rookie Flacco again on Thursday night running for his life behind the second-team tackle unit with no Todd Heap to throw to or Willis McGahee to hand off to. And who knows where Boller stands at this point in the new regime, although I still think his first half against the Patriots was the best we’ve seen in the preseason so far (and that’s not saying much).

You gotta feel sorry for Harbaugh and Cam Cameron, who was supposed to be the tonic to fix the woeful offenses of seasons’ past. And now they’re relegated to having spent a wasted preseason slate just trying to get a few first downs and not get the quarterback killed. Whatever quarterback reps, development and synergy that they had hoped and planned for since January have gone out the window with illness and injury.

The Ravens, as an organization, have been very upbeat and positive about this season for months. “We’ll be better than you think” has been the mantra since the first whistle of training camp. I guess we can’t expect them to say, “If we get to eight wins it’ll be a miracle.”

But everywhere I go and everyone I talk to in purple fan land has lowered the bar on expectations for this season and it’s pretty clear that Harbaugh will be given the “hall pass” for 2008 that Billick wouldn’t have been afforded. That alone saves the organization plenty of grief, if not the indignity of last place. (We can only hope Cincinnati brings even bigger problems here next weekend!)

But the problems in Owings Mills are real and mounting in the early going for all concerned. And we haven’t even touched on the defensive side of the ball!

Will Samari Rolle and/or Chris McAlister get on the field and perform?

Just how serious is Ed Reed’s injury and who is telling the truth on that one?

How are Trevor Pryce and Ray Lewis – both of whom have been non-factors in the preseason – going to hold up into their mid-30s playing a young man’s game?

What is the injury status of Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata on what should be a stout defensive line?

And just how will Terrell Suggs react to this franchise tag and how will Lewis perform in a “walk” year?

The real games don’t come for another 12 days. But once they start coming they don’t stop. It’s unforgiving.

I really hope some solutions and miracles come our way because there’s nothing worse than having a season end before it begins.

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Baltimore Positive is the vision and the creative extension of four decades of sharing the love of local sports for this Dundalk native and University of Baltimore grad, who began his career as a sportswriter and music critic at The News American and The Baltimore Sun in the mid-1980s. Launched radio career in December 1991 with Kenny Albert after covering the AHL Skipjacks. Bought WNST-AM 1570 in July 1998, created WNST.net in 2007 and began diversifying conversations on radio, podcast and social media as Baltimore Positive in 2016. nes@baltimorepositive.com