Feature: Former UCLA Star Olson Conquers NFL Europa
May 24, 2007
BALTIMORE (AP) -Drew Olson is willing to go the extra mile to play in the NFL. Make that the extra 3,817 miles, the distance from Baltimore to Amsterdam.
Signed as a free agent in May 2006 by the Ravens, Olson spent the entire season on the practice squad before being asked by the team to hone his game in NFL Europa. The former UCLA standout readily complied, so this spring he's slinging passes for the Amsterdam Admirals.
Olson's parents visited for a couple of weeks, but for the most part the 23-year-old has been holed up in a hotel room, studying the playbook.
'Hopefully I'll look back on this and say it was a stepping stone,' Olson said from the Netherlands in a phone conversation with The Associated Press. 'There are many ways to get into the NFL, and hopefully this is just one of them.'
Olson had a brilliant four-year run at UCLA, finishing second on the school's career charts in yards passing, completions and touchdown passes. As a senior, he came in eighth in balloting for the Heisman Trophy.
Now, as a pro, his immediate goal is to beat out current Heisman Trophy holder Troy Smith and become the Ravens' third-string quarterback behind Steve McNair and Kyle Boller.
When Olson comes to training camp in July, he will be competing against Smith, who led Ohio State to the national championship game before being selected by the Ravens in the fifth round of the draft.
'I knew they'd take a quarterback with a late pick. I was not surprised,' Olson said. 'That's OK. In the NFL, there's competition. I've been competing for a job since I was in high school, and this isn't going to be any different. I can't control what Troy does. I can only control what I do, and I intend to do well.'
If Olson can replicate his numbers with the Admirals, then he should be wearing a Ravens jersey this fall. Coming off a win over Hamburg in which he threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns, Olson has completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,114 yards and nine TDs (against seven interceptions) in six games.
'I've been watching what Drew's been doing in Amsterdam,' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. 'We think the time in Europe is going to serve him very well, and hopefully when he comes back we'll have a chance to see how it translates into what we're doing here.'
The first thing the coaches will study is the flight of the ball out of Olson's hand. When last the Ravens saw him throw a pass, the phrase 'wounded duck' probably came to mind.
'It's not all pretty with Drew. He's kind of a throwback to Billy Kilmer,' said Rick Neuheisel, Baltimore's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. 'His ball doesn't always spiral and it isn't always going to be gorgeous. But he's a winner, which is why we encouraged him to go to Europe - to prove once again that's what he is.'
The Admirals are in contention for first place, and Olson reports that an adjusted grip on the football has enabled him to lose some of the wobble on his throws.
'I've moved my fingers up on the laces,' he said. 'I'm not claiming that it's perfect, but it's better.'
Good enough so that when he begins competing with Smith for a spot on the roster, Olson will be a better quarterback than ever. He's enjoyed learning the Dutch culture and visiting major cities in Europe, but the most viable result of the trip is the effect it's had on his game.
'I've improved every week. The idea was to take my game to another level, and I think I've done that,' he said.
'We sent Drew there with a purpose, so he can go play, because he did not get the opportunity to play here,' Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. 'He'll come here and compete with Troy, and we'll keep the best one.'
For Olson, training camp this summer will represent just another step in a long journey from UCLA to the NFL. He hopes his trek will end in Baltimore, but he's willing to pack his bags again and try somewhere else.
'My main focus is making the Ravens. I enjoy the offense, I enjoy Baltimore and want to play for a winning organization,' he said. 'But if it doesn't work out, at least I can show another team the film of what I've done here.'