Ravens enthused about both quarterbacks

OWINGS MILLS - Besides the spirals emanating from their quarterbacks' arms, the Baltimore Ravens completed their minicamp Sunday equally enthused with their passers' knowledge and acumen. In the case of incumbent starter Chris Redman, concerns were eased about his surgically-repaired back, too. After four practices, it was obvious he has made noticeable strides in terms of his accuracy, velocity and flexibility. "Night and day," quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said of Redman.

"Strength-wise, athleticism, quickness, movement, arm strength, everything is better because his back is healthier. He looked like a different guy."

And rookie quarterback Kyle Boller, whom the Ravens traded next year's first-round pick and this year's second-round selection to draft him 19th overall, managed to immerse himself quickly in the playbook. As expected, he has quite a fastball.

Ravens coach Brian Billick emphasized that it's far too early to handicap an impending quarterback competition that has yet to generate controversy.

Boller and Redman have engaged in a mutual admiration society thus far, and have exchanged telephone numbers.

"He has all the tools, all the intangibles," Redman said of Boller. "He's going to be a great quarterback, and I'm looking forward to being around him for a while."

For Boller, this is another challenging learning curve after his meteoric improvement a year ago under Cal coach Jeff Tedford's tutelage.

Boller rapidly went from a quarterback regarded as a member of the Pac-10 Conference's second-tier to a first-round pick because of his heralded right arm and sprinting ability. Now, he's attempting to gain a reputation for his understanding of a pro offense.

So far, Boller appears to know what he's doing and plans on studying hard before aMay 19 passing camp.

"I learned a ton," Boller said. "It's like Spanish class. You're not going to learn it all in three days."

For a rookie quarterback, the sheer volume of words required to call a single play can be overwhelming.

"I was very impressed with Kyle's ability to handle himself in the huddle, the verbiage," Billick said. "He wasn't stumbling around. He knew what he was saying."

Boller was able to muscle some throws while off-balance and escape pass rushers with his 4.59 speed, although these were non-contact drills. He resisted the temptation to show off his arm strength unnecessarily.

"You can't just wing it out there," Boller said. "I threw some good balls, some bad balls. It wasn't perfect, never will be."

Redman, 25, underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc months after his back flare-up cost him his job to veteran Jeff Blake. He went 3-3 as a starter, passing for 1,034 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions with a cumulative 76.1 quarterback rating. His most impressive performances came in consecutive televised wins over Denver and Cleveland with ratings of 101.4 and 106.0.

"Chris did a great job of picking up above and beyond where he left off last year," Shaw said.

The true test for Redman will come when he's blindsided by a blitzing linebacker, but that question is unlikely to be answered until August. Redman realizes that the Ravens aren't guaranteeing him anything other than a fair shake to hold onto his job. As an unrestricted free agent after this season, Redman knows this has to be the time to prove himself.

Will Boller eventually overtake Redman this season? It's probably too early to tell, but all indications point toward the Ravens allowing Redman to play as long as his continued good health and Boller's progress warrants that decision.

"I'm not getting caught up in any quarterback controversy," receiver Travis Taylor said. "We have two excellent quarterbacks and Chris looks better than ever."

Plus, Billick, Shaw and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh are reluctant to accelerate Boller's exposure to NFL defenses too quickly for fear of setting back their prize prospect. Meanwhile, a training camp battle awaits.

"You always have to compete in the NFL," Redman said. "Competition is what it's all about, and I'm ready for that. This is why you play football: to find out who's the best."

NOTES: Punter Dave Zastudil began auditioning to become the Ravens' kickoff specialist, which could give kicker Matt Stover's leg a break and save a roster spot.

"I've got to start real slow, and they didn't want me to start booming it right away," Zastudil said. "If you do it right and don't kick too much, I think you can develop more leg strength, which might help your punting. I'm committed to the challenge." …

Linebackers Ray Lewis and Ed Hartwell were excused from team drills as a precautionary measure with cornerback Chris McAlister sitting out, too. Corey Fuller worked with the first defense in McAlister's place opposite Gary Baxter with Ed Reed and Will Demps at strong and free safety, respectively. … Riddick Parker worked in with the first unit at right defensive end occasionally this weekend. … Offensive guard Bennie Anderson missed practice for personal reasons and Casey Rabach played in his place at right guard. … Stover is holding a kicking camp on July 27 at McDonogh. For more information, call 410-363-0600.

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