Anthony Wright has not had the easiest road to travel during his four seasons as a quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens. He has bounced from third-string to starter to backup and he has lost an entire year to injury.
Now, thanks to Kyle Boller's hyperextended right big toe, Wright is once again the starter. When the Ravens face the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday, Wright will make his first start since Jan. 3, 2004 -- a wild-card playoff game against the Titans.
Wright, who started the last seven games of the 2003 season, says he wants to show "that I haven't lost a step, that I'm the same guy that helped this team get to the playoffs a couple of years ago. Whatever they need me to do, I'll step up and do what's asked."
Boller was injured with five minutes left in the third quarter of Baltimore's season-opening 24-7 loss to Indianapolis. Wright entered the game facing second and 20 deep in his own territory and completed his first two passes to get the first down. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 214 yards in just 20 minutes of work. He also threw a touchdown pass and had two passes intercepted.
Wright's presence has helped lift the Ravens, a team with playoff aspirations. Baltimore can plug in Wright, who has the confidence of his teammates based on what he did during in 2003: five wins (including the greatest comeback in franchise history) and the AFC North division championship. The Ravens do not have to radically overhaul their game plan because he and Boller have similar physical attributes.
"If it was a rookie or some guy who had never started sitting behind Boller, I think there would be some concerns," guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "But knowing what Wright can do -- he's been in this spot before -- that doesn't concern me too much. When he stepped in on Sunday, he kind of picked up where he left off."
The Ravens are optimistic that Boller, who was wearing a protective boot on his right foot Wednesday, will be available when they host the New York Jets on Oct. 2 (Baltimore has a bye after the Titans game). But Coach Brian Billick deflected questions about whether Boller will regain his starting spot when healthy, or whether Wright can earn the job by playing well.
"Anthony Wright is our starting quarterback and he will be our starting quarterback until circumstances change," Billick said. "That's the only approach we can take. It's not fruitful to tell a guy, 'You're the guy part-time,' or telling the other guy, 'You're out for the year.' You just don't do that."
On Wednesday, Baltimore signed veteran Kordell Stewart, who spent last season as the No. 2 quarterback. If he can pick up the offense quickly, then he will back up Wright on Sunday; otherwise, the Ravens will go with rookie Derek Anderson.
Wright took over for Boller in the 10th game of the 2003 season, after the rookie went down with a quadriceps injury. In his second start, against Seattle on Nov. 23, Wright helped the Ravens erase a 17-point fourth quarter deficit en route to a 44-41 overtime victory.
Wright struggled at the start of the game (six of his first nine passes were incomplete), but he was 17 of 28 for 282 yards and threw four touchdown passes in the second half. He set career highs with 319 passing yards and 119.1 quarterback rating.
That win was the turning point of the season for the Ravens, who won four of their next five games to wrap up their first division championship. In Baltimore's 20-17 loss to Tennessee in the playoffs, Wright was 20 of 37 for 214 yards; he threw one touchdown pass -- a 35-yarder to tight end Todd Heap -- that tied the score at 17 with less than five minutes to play.
But Wright didn't get a chance to build on his success from the 2003 season. During that offseason, he felt pain in his shoulder and a loss of arm strength. A magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed a torn labrum in the shoulder of his throwing arm, an injury that he said stemmed from a hit he took early in the comeback win over Seattle.
Wright underwent surgery to repair the tear in May, and he wasn't allowed to throw for the next four months. By the time he returned to the practice field in November, Boller was firmly entrenched as the starter and Stewart as the backup. Wright was inactive (but listed as the third quarterback) for the final seven games of the season.
"Not having the chance to go out there and play was really tough," Wright said. "I tried to look at it from a positive aspect and continued to watch the game and study the game and learn things about the game that I didn't know before."
It took nearly a year for Wright to fully recover from the surgery, and he experienced some fatigue in his arm during training camp from throwing. But he said that his arm is now stronger than it was before the injury, and that he should have some extra zip on his passes.
Wright gracefully handled his return to backup status. Publicly, he said all the right things; he did not complain, nor did he lobby for the chance to get some snaps with the starting offense in preseason.
"He understood the situation, but he wanted to play, just like any other competitor," said Stewart, whose friendship with Wright dates from the 1999 season, when they were on the Pittsburgh Steelers. "He wants to play. But there's a mature side of you that causes you to have to be poised, patient and let everything kind of evolve. That's pretty much how he's handled it."
And now he finally has his chance to start again.
"I never looked at myself as a backup; I don't think most of the guys in the league do," Wright said. "I know my nature is to compete, so I've always felt like I could start in this league. The road that I had to go down is a little bit different than others, and I respect that."
Ravens Notes: The Ravens waived wide receiver Patrick Johnson, a former second-round pick who re-signed with the team in April, to open a roster spot for Stewart. Baltimore also signed wide receiver Fred Stamps to the practice squad and terminated the practice-squad contract of tackle Dante Ellington. . . . Cornerback Deion Sanders (thigh), defensive end Terrell Suggs (back), tight end Daniel Wilcox (hip) and wide receiver Devard Darling (thigh) are questionable. Sanders and Suggs did not practice.