Boller-Redman battle coming down to the wire

<p>OWINGS MILLS - Uncloaking the ultimate identity of the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback requires more than mere logical deduction. It would mean reading the mind of Ravens coach Brian Billick, the arbiter of the competition between incumbent Chris Redman and rookie challenger Kyle Boller. That impending decision will hinge heavily on what transpires in the Ravens' preseason finale tonight at M&T Bank Stadium against the New York Giants.

"It's one more evaluation," said Billick, who has yet to have the same quarterback begin consecutive seasons entering his fifth year in Baltimore. "It's a little more data we can throw into the pot along with all of the other subjective things. "I'm looking for the same thing that I was looking for before: efficiency and a certain ability to orchestrate the offense and the ability to make a play down the field." 

A week after Boller's subdued starting debut against the Washington Redskins, indicators again point toward the first-round draft pick opening the game under center. Boller has taken the majority of the repetitions with the first offense all week, according to reserve quarterback Anthony Wright and several other offensive players. Boller said he didn't know if he was starting and normally learns the rotation the night before kickoff. Traditionally, the quarterback who starts the final preseason game will open the season in the top spot. This hasn't been a standard competition, though. 

Redman, who started six games last fall for a 3-3 mark, has started twice yet has played much less than Boller. It's coming down to a debate between Redman's poise and experience against Boller's superior athleticism and velocity. "I think Chris Redman should be the starting quarterback because he's a solid veteran and the Ravens are a legitimate playoff football team," said Joe Theismann, an ESPN analyst and former Washington Redskins quarterback. "I don't know what Brian will do, but as the season goes on I think he would see that starting Kyle would be a mistake and do him a disservice. "I like everything about the kid. He's got it all: a good gun, good feet, and good mobility. Watching Kyle work against the Redskins and Falcons, I don't think he's ready to start." 

The Ravens performed so poorly in a 24-3 loss Saturday to the Redskins that Billick said he would probably alter the structure of this final evaluation period. Redman has yet to throw a touchdown pass, although he has demonstrated his steadiness. He has completed 26-of-43 passes for 260 yards and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 58.3. Redman, 26, didn't appear to strengthen or weaken his cause by completing 17-of-28 passes for 163 yards and an interception last week. Redman's surgically-repaired back is no longer an issue. It's a matter of whether he has done enough for Billick to anoint him as the starter. "I try not to put any extra pressure on myself and just go out and play," Redman said. "Obviously, I want to go out there and perform at a high level so I'm pushing myself constantly. I'm just trying to worry about myself right now rather than the competition." 

Meanwhile, Boller, 22, showed signs of nerves against the Redskins, including a swing pass in the dirt. He completed 14-of-20 passes for 101 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for an 81.5 rating. "I noticed that Kyle wears his emotions on his sleeve," Theismann said. "A quarterback's body language is important. He can't show obvious displeasure. "Kyle can't let his head and shoulders drop after a bad throw. Not only do you see it on television, but your teammates can feel it. Generally, I saw poise." Boller's cumulative totals for the preseason includes 357 yards, a completion percentage of 55.9, two touchdowns, one interception and a 78.1 rating. "Hopefully, I'll be more comfortable in the first series and we'll go out there and have a good time," Boller said. "We really need to establish who we are and put the football in the end zone. I want to get that bad taste out of my mouth from the Washington game." 

In terms of economics, Redman will become an unrestricted free agent after the season and is being paid a salary of $1.3 million in the final year of his contract. Boller signed a five-year pact worth up to $20 million, including escalator and incentive clauses. The Ravens traded next year's first-round pick and this year's second-round pick to New England to acquire the former Cal quarterback. Will the starter be Boller or Redman? Stay tuned. "All Kyle lacks is experience," Theismann said. "Sitting out early in his career was a great benefit to Steve McNair. Chris Redman should start for the same reason that Jon Kitna should start over Carson Palmer."

Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times

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