Boller has only scratched surface of his potential

OWINGS MILLS - Instead of tossing a football through a tire, Kyle Boller underwent a gauntlet of rather unorthodox training methods.

Before the former Cal quarterback emerged as a first-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens, virtually his entire game was reshaped by Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford. Tedford applied some polish to Boller's raw material.

Eventually, Boller improved so much that he became valued enough by Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade away this year's second-round selection and next year's first round pick for the New England Patriots' 19th overall selection. Having the arm strength to toss a spiral through the uprights from one knee at the 50-yard line - 60 yards on the fly - didn't exactly hurt Boller's cause, either. Boller was all ears when he met Tedford, an innovative quarterback guru credited with the development of future NFL passers Joey Harrington and Akili Smith when they were at Oregon. Tedford had also worked with Trent Dilfer and David Carr at Fresno State. Plus, Boller had been hampered by three years of instability and losing since being anointed as "Jesus in Cleats" by the Berkeley campus newspaper when he enrolled at Cal as a consensus prep All-American. As a junior, he endured a 1-10 season. First, Tedford tied the right-handed Boller's left wrist to his left bicep to streamline his throwing motion in practice sessions. "I had a lot of wasted motion, where my front arm was swinging, and so we taped my arm down and gave me this motion, which also enables the ball to get up and out quicker," said Boller, who already had the requisite physical gifts at 6-foot-3, 234 pounds with 4.59 speed over 40 yards. "It was really awkward at first, but eventually I felt so much more accurate and compact." Then, Tedford had Boller practice in tennis shoes instead of cleats to force him to taker shorter, choppier steps when dropping back from center. Initially, all Boller gained from this exercise were multiple grass stains. "You've got to be balanced," Boller said at a Sunday press conference at the Ravens' training complex. "If you overstride, you're going to do the splits." And Tedford and Boller played checkers. Yes, checkers. A special football-oriented version of the game, where Boller moved the pieces around a flat surface to simulate an offense and a defense as Tedford had his protege bark out formations, reads and coverages. It forced Boller to react quickly and have a plan. To be a quarterback. "I think in my situation that I've just scratched the surface," Boller said. "Coach Tedford has taught me a lot about the position, but I've got a lot to learn still. I'm really excited and I look forward to becoming a better quarterback and improving." By the time, Tedford was done with Boller he engineered a 7-5 senior campaign that included 2,815 yards, improved accuracy and 28 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. Over the previous three years, Boller had 38 interceptions and 36 touchdowns while going 7-21 as a starter. Cumulatively, Boller completed only 47.8 percent of his passes, but upgraded that number to 53 percent last season. Some of the statistics can be hung on Boller's inconsistent accuracy and a major portion of the blame could be assigned to the Golden Bears' receivers who kept dropping his high-velocity passes. "Kyle Boller is someone as you look across the board at every measurement, he is the complete package," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. Fellow Ravens first-round pick Terrell Suggs, the outside linebacker prospect from Arizona State who set an NCAA mark with 24 sacks last season, can attest to Boller's mobility. He said he only sacked him once in three years. "He'll tell you I've rocked him a couple of times," Suggs said. "But he's a great quarterback, and he's great on getting the ball out." Boller's role model for the position is former Denver Broncos star John Elway. Baltimore has had eight quarterbacks start at least one game in the Billick era: Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, current starter Chris Redman and Jeff Blake. Yet, this is the first time, other than tabbing Redman in the third round three years ago, that Baltimore has addressed the position with a high draft selection. Boller reaffirmed Sunday that he's expecting a competitive situation with Redman that won't boil over. "People talk about me starting, but I need to learn from Chris," Boller said. "I hope Chris kind of takes me under his wing. I'm going to work hard and compete, but, at the same time, Chris is going to be a guy that I can learn from and, hopefully, I can establish a good relationship with." Coming out of Hart High School in Newhall, Calif., Boller was labeled a can't-miss prospect, one almost as touted as future Texas star Chris Simms was in New Jersey. In his senior year alone, Boller passed for 4,838 yards and 59 touchdowns with only three interceptions. That created enormous expectations. Now, here comes another intense, higher-profile situation for a young man Billick lauds for his character and intelligence. "I think it's going to be a lot faster than going from high school to college, and I know what a difference that was," Boller said before boarding an airplane back to California. "This last year, coach Tedford really taught me more about the game of football. The next step is just to get in the playbook, learn things and just take it slowly. It's real easy to get away from the fundamentals." Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times.

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