When Tony Banks walked off the practice field Monday after learning he had been named the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, owner Art Modell shook his hand and offered a few encouraging words. It was a signal of how eager this organization is to find an answer to its offensive woes.
"He just stated that he has confidence in me that I can get the job done and wished me good luck," Banks said. "I told him we're going to have some fun with it, that I'm looking forward to it. I've been waiting for this opportunity for a while now."
This Sunday against Buffalo, Banks will become the Ravens' third starting quarterback of the season. Scott Mitchell started the first two games before being replaced by Stoney Case, who lasted four games. Now Banks gets his chance to improve what is the league's 24th-rated offense, averaging 279.8 yards per game.
After watching his offense grind nearly to a standstill last Thursday against Kansas City, Baltimore Coach Brian Billick reluctantly benched Case. Banks took over in the fourth quarter, completing 8 of 14 passes for 69 yards. Although he led Baltimore on its only touchdown drive in two games, Banks did not receive a resounding endorsement from Billick. Despite Case's struggles, Billick did not rule out returning him to the starting job.
"It depends on how the team plays," Billick said. "It depends on how the quarterback plays. . . . That's the nature of what we are right now. I don't like it. I'd prefer for it not to be that way, but you try to find the mix that can win for you. And I'm still searching for that offensively."
Banks joined the Ravens in April, acquired from St. Louis for a pair of draft picks. Banks, who was the Rams' second-round pick in the 1996 draft, started 43 of 44 games during his three seasons in St. Louis. Last season, he threw for 2,535 yards and seven touchdowns, completing 241 of 408 passes. However, he also threw 14 interceptions.
Turnovers have been a problem for Banks, who admits he loses focus during games. He has thrown 42 interceptions and fumbled 46 times during his career. However, his fumbles--which were a career-high 21 his rookie year--have diminished each season.
Banks also tends to freelance outside the structure of the offense. He is not shy about improvising to make a play. That doesn't always sit well with Billick, who prefers a more orderly offense.
"I've tried as much as I could to get a feeling for Coach Billick and what he wants," Banks said. "He wants his quarterbacks to work within a certain structure. I've tried to be positive out here, maybe add a little pep to my step because I am a little casual. But that's just my personality. . . . [The hardest part] is just understanding how Coach Billick wants you to do things. He speaks a lot about giving you the freedom to audible, but then there's sometimes when he doesn't want you to audible. So there's a fine line."
Banks continues to learn where that line lies. As long as he cuts down on the mistakes, he has the arm strength and mobility to invigorate the Ravens' offense. Banks also possesses a jump shooter's mentality. He's not afraid to keep putting the ball in the air until somebody catches it.
"I definitely have a lot of confidence when I throw the football," Banks said. "I don't think there's too many guys that throw the football the way I do. . . . I'll work within the structure of what Coach Billick calls. [But] I'm going to take my shots down the field. That's just the way I am. I have a lot of confidence in my right arm. That's what got me this far."