Boller ahead of learning curve

OWINGS MILLS - Prior to the unpredictable blur that occurs at the line of scrimmage, Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller undergoes the equivalent to a pop quiz. Inside the huddle, the Ravens' first-round pick has to not be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of words required for everything from a fullback dive to complicated passing patterns involving three wide receivers.

The former Cal quarterback is responsible for indicating the name of the play, formation, snap count, line protection, potential "hot" routes as well as receivers' pre-snap motion.

Once Boller is under center, there always exists the possibility of needing to check out of the play and call an audible to adjust to the defensive alignment.

"All of a sudden it will get big and it will be a little bit of an overload," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Boller's NFL education that continues as passing camp resumes today. "He'll have a short fuse, but he's handling it very well and we're getting a lot done physically."

Last year under Jeff Tedford, Boller's career track stabilized after three years of losing and shaky mechanics. Besides having Boller perform unorthodox drills designed to straighten out his throwing motion such as tying his left wrist to his left bicep, Tedford had Boller play a special version of checkers. Boller had to move around pieces designated as football players around a table into formations and call signals as well as react to different defensive schemes. Checkers paid off.

Boller led Cal to a 7-5 campaign in his senior year, completing 53 percent of his passes for 2,816 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With the Ravens, Boller has a different sort of challenge. He's in competition with incumbent starter Chris Redman, who's already well-versed in the offense and on the same page with Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. There's the burden of the speed of the game to account for. And the constant test of Boller's memory.

"You've got to know how to say the play in order to understand the play," Boller said. "In the huddle, you want to make you're saying it right so everybody knows what they're doing. "If I'm in the huddle and I forget something, I just ask the coaches real quick. I think I've done a pretty good job of not messing up in the huddle."

Over his first three seasons at Cal after a blue-chip prep career, Boller was 7-21 as a starter with 38 interceptions and 36 touchdowns, including a 1-10 junior season. Tedford was able to help Boller salvage his final college season and emerge as one of the fastest-rising draft prospects. Previous Tedford pupils included Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith.

"I had a lot to prove my senior year and coach Tedford taught me so much about the game," Boller said.

This isn't the first time that Boller has had to familiarize himself with a new offense, albeit this is much more complex than what he absorbed in his four years on the Berkeley campus. Comparing the intricacies of the pro game to college football is akin to the gap that exists between high school biology and quantum physics.

"Each day, I feel a bit more comfortable and I just keep learning new stuff," Boller said. "New plays go in, but you've still got to remember the old stuff. It's been going really good, but it's also been a whirlwind. A lot has been thrown at me and I'm just trying to do the best I can."

Although the Ravens drafted Boller 19th overall after trading nexx year's first-round pick and this year's second-round selection to the New England Patriots because of his heralded arm strength and speed, they have been equally impressed with his thirst for knowledge. Boller also has to deal with the pressure of being drafted in the first round at a position where Baltimore has become accustomed to a constant flux of passers.

"How you handle the pressure depends on the person, and Kyle seems like someone who will step up to any challenge," said strong safety Ed Reed, who became an all-rookie selection after the Ravens drafted him 24th overall last year. "He's a good athlete and he's got the competitiveness in his heart. "It's just about learning the system, learning your job and what the coaches want out of you. He's still got a long way to go, but so do I. I'm still learning."

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