The drums beat loudly behind Mike Pagel these days.

Drafted out of Arizona State only this year, Pagel now is the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Colts.

He hardly seems like a rookie. As he has constantly scrambled out of the pocket, he also has scrambled the Baltimore memory of Bert Jones. Thus far, Pagel has completed 28 of 52 passes for 430 yards and five touchdowns.

Furthermore, Pagel has not thrown an interception and the Colts have won two of three exhibition games, which is two more than they won last year.

"I came in thinking I could start. I knew there were name quarterbacks here, but it didn't worry me," Pagel said today.

To some, all of this is very surprising.

Not so much because 15-year veteran Greg Landry was cut and eight-year veteran David Humm now is dangling from the third string.

Rather, it is surprising because Art Schlichter is not starting. Schlichter, from Ohio State, was the second player chosen in the draft; Pagel was No. 84 (in the fourth round). Sheer mathematics say Schlichter should be the starter.

But, in football, sheer mathematics work only inside the Dallas Cowboys' computer.

Colts Coach Frank Kush says Pagel should start. "Mike has the feet and he has the ability to be elusive. He is aware and he is composed. Plus, he comes from a drop-back system. That's a big advantage to be familiar with a system," said Kush, who recruited Pagel to Arizona State five years ago.

"Art is still thinking about the fundamentals. He comes from a different type of system. It takes time to adjust. It's almost as though when he is dropping back he is asking himself, 'Have I taken seven steps yet?' "

Schlichter is very straightforward about the situation.

"People expected me to set the world on fire. I have many things to learn, too many habits to break," he said.

"I'm in the limelight still. I'll always be in the limelight, be it good or bad. Mike (Pagel) entered a situation where all the pressure was on me. In time, I'll relax. But it will take time. I'm not worried about sitting on the bench. I knew there would be an adjustment period."

Schlichter has completed 13 of 29 passes for 201 yards. No touchdowns. One interception. Tough times.

"We were basically a running team at Ohio State," said Schlichter. "Everything is new here."

One thing new for Schlichter are the boo birds that circled his head during his two-for-10, 40-yard performance in the 19-14 victory over the New York Giants at Memorial Stadium two weeks ago.

"I was a little jittery against the Giants, not at the start, but after I had two or three overthrows on passes. I've been jittery before, feeling like everything is going wrong. I guess I've had every feeling you can have in football."

In last week's 34-3 victory over Atlanta, Schlichter completed five of eight for 99 yards. The numbers were good, but Pagel was nine of 11 (with two drops) for 207 yards and three touchdowns.

"Most of the pressure Art has placed on himself," said Zeke Bratkowski, the offensive coordinator. "Sometimes, he's his own worst enemy. We've tried to relax him.

"He's suffering a little bit. You have to remember his background: starting quarterback at Ohio State as a freshman, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, all the Heisman (Trophy) attention. But it's unfair to generalize about him after just three preseason games."

There are no generalizations about Pagel. Just exclamations. "We knew what his capabilities were," said Bratkowski. "Mike has proven that he is better than a lot of people thought."

Through 2,484 yards and 29 touchdown passes he threw at Arizona State last year, Pagel knew that people did not know what to think about him, simply because they did not think about him.

"We played a lot of our games at night and in the West. So when the people in the East read the papers the next day, all they saw about our game was a little box score or nothing at all."

Pagel knows the limelight didn't always shine on Tempe, Ariz. "I always thought I could do the same thing he (Schlichter) could do. But he was a starter at Ohio State and I was just at Arizona State," said Pagel.

Now, they are roommates, at ease with each other off the field, at odds on the field. The drums beat loudly, victoriously for Pagel. "I know Coach Kush," Pagel said. "Whoever is doing the job will get it."

And the pedal steel guitar plays soft, sad notes for Schlichter. "Everybody expects magic from him everytime he puts his hands on the ball," said Kush. "He will come around in time."

With confidence, Schlichter said, "I know my time will come."