BEREA — In mid-April, Brett Ratliff was preparing to battle Kellen Clemens to be the starting quarterback of the New York Jets. Four months later, he’s the forgotten man in the latest Browns quarterback drama.
Ratliff admits to being stunned by the draft-day trade that allowed the Jets to pick USC’s Mark Sanchez, but is trying to make the best of the situation.
“That’s all in history,” he said Tuesday between practices. “All I can focus on is what’s happening right now, and I’m trying to fight my way into a spot here, whatever that spot is.
“So you can’t change your mind-set. Your goal is always to try to be a starter and that’s what I’m going to compete for.”
Ratliff is running a distant third to Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, but his future in Cleveland might be the most secure. Coach Eric Mangini could decide to trade the loser of Quinn-Anderson, and he thought enough of Ratliff from their time together in New York to trade for him — even if it was as an insurance policy.
“I don’t know the reason he brought me here,” said Ratliff, who hasn’t taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game. “I must have shown something in the past and that’s why they wanted me.
“I’m just happy to be here, to have the opportunity to be on this team, to have the opportunity to continue to play in this league, because it’s a privilege, not a given.”
Ratliff, 24, hasn’t gotten nearly the repetitions of Quinn or Anderson during training camp, but he got everyone’s attention with his play Sunday in the scrimmage and Tuesday morning at practice.
Working behind Anderson on Sunday, Ratliff hit David Patten for a 71-yard touchdown, then set up a second touchdown with a crossing pattern to Patten. He finished 6-for-10 for 151 yards.
Getting his first chance with the starters in a two-minute drill Tuesday, he drew Corey Williams offsides on fourth-and-4 and fitted a fade to Braylon Edwards between Brandon McDonald and Brodney Pool.
He followed with an in to Edwards, who reached behind him for a one-handed grab and streaked down the seam into the end zone.
McDonald thought he had tagged down Edwards, but the officials signaled touchdown.
“Play to the whistle, and sometimes they’ll be called for you and sometimes they won’t,” Ratliff said.
Mangini wasn’t making a statement by putting Ratliff with the starters and Richard Bartel with the second team.
“I’ll throw those guys in with the ones and twos at different points without them ever knowing, just to see how they respond,” he said.
Ratliff didn’t shrink in the moment.
“It was fun. I enjoy anytime I get an opportunity,” he said. “Two-minute is one of my favorite things to do. Got to go in and go with the ones and be able to go down and get a touchdown.”
Ratliff is 6-foot-4, 224 pounds with good mobility and an adequate arm. He was undrafted in 2007 after starting 13 games at Utah, and Mangini signed him with the Jets and kept him on the practice squad.
Mangini wanted to get the most out of Ratliff while on the practice squad, so he had him attend the quarterback meetings but practice as a receiver. The following year, Ratliff came back ready to play quarterback.
“That is ideally what you have, someone who is intrinsically motivated to get better, takes all the things that we offer, in terms of coaching or the strength and conditioning department, and gets better,” Mangini said. “He is a really good example of that.”
“Definitely by the end of the season I was ready to get back to quarterback, because that’s what I do,” Ratliff said.
Last year, Ratliff used a big preseason game at Cleveland Browns Stadium to become the Jets’ No. 3 quarterback for the season.
He didn’t expect to play against the Browns, but the Jets traded for Brett Favre the night before and cut Chad Pennington. Ratliff played three quarters and threw 71- and 70-yard touchdowns to David Clowney.
“It worked out in my favor,” Ratliff said. “The very first pass of my career was a 71-yard TD. It was a very good coming-out party.”
A year later, he has returned to the background. And he’s OK with that.
“That’s how I’ve been my entire life,” he said. “I’ve never from the start been the guy. I’ve always worked my way up and that’s the way I prefer it.
“I prefer to be the underdog, and that’s when I do better.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.