Baltimore Ravens Find Steal in QB Tyrod Taylor

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Baltimore Ravens Find Steal in QB Tyrod Taylor
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I was really hoping to write a different article tonight. One where I would rub in the greatness of Tyrod Taylor and how he picked apart the Eagles' defense.

It looks like I won't get to write the article. Not today, anyway.

First, a quick recap: The only touchdown on the field came early in the game when Michael Vick threw a touchdown to Brent Celek. After that one series, Vick called it a night and neither team scored another touchdown.

Joe Flacco had a decent pair of series and Billy Cundiff impressed with a 53-yard field goal (he did miss wide left on a 55-yarder, though). Overall, the first teams did what was expected.

The big question, though, was whether or not sixth-round draft pick Taylor would be a viable backup to Flacco. Taylor came out and, initially, he disappointed. He was sacked upon taking the field. He completed a short pass, but then threw an interception. That first series was representative of most of Taylor's first game in the NFL. He threw errant passes, was sacked six times and threw two interceptions (and he could have easily thrown two more).

But, he looked mobile and evasive and was able to avoid pressure while constantly looking upfield for the open man. His incompletions could often be chalked up to dropped passes. At least half the sacks were due to the offensive line's inability to handle Eagles blitzes (though he probably should have looked for the hot option more quickly).

Do you trust Tyrod Taylor to back up Joe Flacco this season?

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Also encouraging was his high completion percentage and decent yards per attempt average. Even though he was inaccurate early, it was obvious Taylor became more confident and precise as the game went on. All in all, his performance was encouraging. He played at about the level coaches and fans thought he'd play in his first game and he had a much better performance than we might expect of a sixth-rounder.

So, what does his performance mean for the team?

First, Taylor has NOT yet played himself into--or out of--the job as the team's backup. This was just one, isolated performance in one preseason game. He is still locked into a battle over the No. 2 spot with the older Hunter Cantwell. Assuming Taylor wins that battle over Cantwell, John Harbaugh and his coaching staff may not trust a rookie to back up the most important position in football, especially considering the Ravens are Super Bowl contenders.

Once teams start cutting players to achieve a 53-man roster, it is almost certain some quality veteran quarterbacks will become available. It is almost certain Harbaugh and the Ravens will at least flirt with the possibility of signing a veteran.

The news is not all discouraging for Taylor. For starters, he has three weeks of preseason games and practices to prove that he's the guy for the job. No veteran quarterbacks that the Ravens can get will have experience with the second team like Taylor will. Hell, Cantwell most likely won't get many reps with the second team, either.

Moreover, all indications show that the coaching staff has faith in him. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron is enamored with Taylor in the same way most coaches who have coached—or coached against*—Taylor have been. Cantwell, on the other hand, earned disdain from Harbaugh,who thinks he is a bit of a slacker

At this point, "T-Mobile" would not beat a quality veteran for the second-string job. However, the market is currently scarce for solid veteran quarterbacks. It is possible the Ravens will be unable to find the right backup at the right price. If Taylor can improve in the next three weeks, Harbaugh may feel comfortable having Taylor as insurance against injury to Flacco, who has been known to take a couple of hard hits.

Taylor also would learn behind one of the better quarterbacks in the league and would have ample time to adapt to the professional game, considering that Flacco is neither injury prone nor has he ever missed a start at the professional level. If given time, it is plausible that Taylor will develop into one of the best backups in the league within the next two years.

This is not a conclusion I reached based on one game; rather, it's one that I make after watching him play for seven years. During high school, opponents believed that Taylor was a runner and he drew comparisons to Vick even then. Some colleges stayed away because they didn't think he could be a pocket passer and a leader, despite the fact that he had a state championship and a few state passing records under his belt.

At Virginia Tech, the same criticisms followed him. He was named the ACC Player of the Year in 2010, despite playing in the same league as highly-touted Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. He rewrote the ACC and Virginia Tech record books and became the most accomplished passer in Virginia Tech history. Like I said, his work ethic and his willingness to prove doubters wrong make it certain that he will become a solid backup quarterback.

For most players, Taylor's story would be a dream come true. Most people will not get the chance to be a solid NFL backup. However, Taylor is not most people. He firmly believes that he is an NFL-caliber quarterback. Cameron thinks he's got the opportunity to be a starter in the league. His coach at Virginia tech, Frank Beamer, is sure he'd make a terrific NFL quarterback. And I'd say Beamer knows something about the talent-level of NFL quarterbacks. 

Even if you don't believe what they say, that's fine. Whether or not he has the skills to be an NFL starter, Taylor believes he does and he's not going to settle for less. He's a humble kid and he will sit and learn behind Flacco. If the Ravens bring in a vet, he'll sit patiently and learn behind him. But Taylor believes he has what it takes to be a starter and he plans to lead a team in this league. 

This is a huge year for Flacco. After multiple playoff losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens' hated rivals, fans expect Flacco to take the leap and become one of the best quarterbacks in the league. If he doesn't make that leap, fans will eventually learn to chant Taylor's name—not this season, but definitely next season. If Flacco makes that leap—and I think he will—Taylor has no future in Baltimore. He will be quality insurance to Flacco until his rookie contract is up. After that, Taylor will take his talents to a team that will trust him to lead them to the promised land. 

 

*In high school, I remember reading a funny quote in the Hampton Roads' newspaper about Taylor. The media asked an opposing coach if he would rather have Taylor in the pocket or out of it. He replied that he'd rather have Taylor in the pocket. At first, members of the media thought that was a knock on Taylor's passing ability. The coach clarified: in the pocket, Taylor has to throw. Out of the pocket, he's either going to run over you, use his feet to extend the play and break down coverage, or destroy you with his accuracy—which the coach claimed was just as good in the pocket as he was out of it. In other words, he liked Taylor in the pocket because it was the more mild poison.

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