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No. 3 to get ready, and one to go
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
After a night off in Game 3, Dave Ragone and Ryan Fitzpatrick are back at it tonight in the Rams' exhibition finale against Miami at Dolphin Stadium.
By no later than Saturday afternoon, one of the two will be looking for work. The other will be the Rams' No. 3 quarterback behind starter Marc Bulger and top backup Gus Frerotte.
"The No. 3 quarterback is certainly getting a lot of attention, and it should be because it's a heck of a battle," coach Scott Linehan said. "That's going to be probably the biggest assessment in this game. Both will play a very significant amount of the game."
Ragone or Fitzpatrick? Who's it going to be?
Linehan has gotten quizzed so often on the topic that it has become a source of humor among Rams Park regulars. Not that the normally unflappable Linehan always gets the joke.
When asked for the umpteenth time about the Battle for No. 3 last week, Linehan tersely replied: "It's the same as it was 24 hours ago. Not much has changed."
But something will change following tonight's contest. And the loser of this competition won't be laughing, either.
While the casual fan may say "who cares?" because the No. 3 quarterback never plays anyway, that hasn't been the case lately in St. Louis. Fitzpatrick had three starts, plus a dramatic relief victory in overtime against Houston, as last season's No. 3.
In 2004, No. 3 QB Jamie Martin played in relief of Chris Chandler after Chandler's infamous first-quarter meltdown in Arizona. And in 2002, no less than four Rams quarterbacks started at least one game.
Of course, the hope in Earth City is that Bulger stays healthy this season and the No. 3 does nothing more than carry a clipboard. Even so, the No. 3 is usually a team's quarterback of the future, and that would be the case with Ragone or Fitzpatrick. MORE RAMS
For most of training camp, as well as a team scrimmage, and the first exhibition game, Fitzpatrick had a clear edge over Ragone.
But Ragone, a lefty from Louisville, closed the gap with a good performance Aug. 19 against Houston, which drafted him in the third round in 2003. He completed nine of 11 passes against the Texans and engineered a touchdown and a field goal drive. For Ragone, the performance was gratifying on a couple of levels.
"Obviously, being there for three years and being let go .... and knowing all those guys over there, it was emotional," Ragone said. "It was definitely a game I circled when I got here."
More importantly, it put him back in the running for the Rams' No. 3 job.
Fitzpatrick's numbers weren't as good as Ragone's against Houston, but he nearly rallied the team to victory in the closing minutes only to have a drive stall at the Texans' 2.
Even though the race is close, Fitzpatrick says it's not like he's charting every Ragone play, and vice versa.
"You can't go out there and say, 'OK, I've got to throw a deep ball on this one to try to show off my arm and throw a touchdown,' " Fitzpatrick said. "You've just got to go out there and play -- move the ball up and down the field, and score touchdowns."
Fitzpatrick, 23, is three years younger than Ragone, so he probably has a bigger upside. Both players are mobile. Give Fitzpatrick the edge in arm strength.
"Every time you step on the field, you want to lead your team down to get some kind of points," Ragone said. "And you want to manage the game. That's the thing. Me being a couple years older and really going out there and managing each play (is important)."
Ragone wasn't acquired until June 20 in a trade with Cincinnati, so he missed the Rams' entire offseason program. Although he does have a tie-in with Linehan, who was his offensive coordinator for a while in college at Louisville, Ragone has been playing catch-up in terms of learning the playbook and learning his receivers. But he no longer can use his late start as an excuse.
"I think that may have been the case the first week," Ragone said. "But we're ... 40 practices into it now. So I'm as comfortable as I'm going to get here."
For his part, Fitzpatrick is displaying greater arm strength and better accuracy than he did last season when forced into the lineup at the end of November.
"It's really hard to compare myself to last year, just because of my comfort level now, and how much better I think I've gotten, not only mentally but physically as well," Fitzpatrick said. "I think Gus coming in helped me a lot. He spent a lot of time with me on little details like footwork, and arm angle, and things like that."
The more Fitzpatrick played last season, the less steam he seemed to have on the ball. But Fitzpatrick said it wasn't a case of an injury or a tired arm; it was a result of trying to emulate Bulger's quicker release. That got him into trouble mechanically.
"Marc's so accurate and so good at what he does, that it's hard not to sit back and try to emulate his throwing motion -- what he's doing," Fitzpatrick said. "But we're just two different quarterbacks. I'm more similar, I would say, to Gus. And I think that's something that's helped me out this year."
Quarterbacks in camp: 4
Likely to make final roster: 3
Safe & sound: Marc Bulger, Gus Frerotte.
On the bubble: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dave Ragone.
-08-31-2006 #2Registered User
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Re: No. 3 to get ready, and one to go
i'll be rooting for harvardfitz...
he showed some mojo last season in a regular season game...which is more than what ragone has shown in his short career...