While marveling over the rookie quarterback's spirals on the eve of training camp, veteran receiver Frank Sanders said, "He has a cannon. He's a gunslinger."
NFL coaches covet arm strength and that was one contributing factor to Boller supplanting incumbent Chris Redman. By all accounts, the first-round draft pick from Cal has terrific velocity unless his mechanics regress. That was one negative aspect of his starting debut last Sunday in the Ravens' 34-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although this gambit defies conventional football wisdom, Boller's potential and progress remain the Ravens' watch words. Boller never appear flustered against Pittsburgh, but was limited to 152 yards despite 43 attempts. He created an interception by staring down tight end Todd Heap. He did throw one touchdown and demonstrated toughness in the face of two sacks and several rough hits.
Now, the 22-year-old heads into his second NFL start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (0-1) at M&T Bank Stadium. "The sky's the limit for Boller," said Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. "He has one of the top five strongest arms in the league and he can move. Right now, he's a piece of coal and under pressure he could become a diamond. "Hopefully, they can rely on the running game and bring him along slowly. When he gets beat up and makes mistakes, they should be patient with him."
Figurative bullets will continue to be aimed at Boller all season. The challenges vary from the blitz packages Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis unleashed to deciphering the Browns' disciplined Cover 2 scheme taught by former Dallas Cowboys head coach Dave Campo. "I just continue to tell myself to slow down," Boller said. "I kind of got away from good fundamentals, my feet especially. If I can work on that, I will become a more accurate passer. "It's good to be critical, but I think I did some good things. Hopefully, it continues to get better."
In comparison to other youthful passers who have been through this experience, Boller is off to a solid start. He compiled a sub-par quarterback rating of 57.5 and didn't complete a pass over 14 yards, but did complete 51.2 percent of his passes. "I think he gives us the best chance to win both short term and long term," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's a very gifted athlete. He has absorbed the offense as quickly as any young quarterback I've ever been around."
Even though he short-armed a few throws against Pittsburgh, Boller didn't seem to be awed by a top-flight defense and a hostile environment. He completed passes to eight different receivers and avoided at least four sacks by sprinting away from pass rushers. During the preseason, Boller compiled a respectable 92.5 quarterback rating with 58 percent accuracy for 456 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His accuracy improved markedly during his final season at Cal under quarterback guru Jeff Tedford. "I rated Kyle the No. 2 quarterback behind Carson Palmer," said Jaworski, who studied film of Boller's entire senior season and personal workouts. "He has the strong arm I look for. He has escapability and he's a bright kid."
Billick is looking for further evidence of progress. Repeating the same mistakes, or injury, are the chief factors that would earn Boller a seat on the bench. Right now, the rookie appears to have firm job security. He'll hand the football to Jamal Lewis most of the time Sunday. "That next step should be quantitative in terms of a guy that has so much to learn," Billick said. "When we have an opportunity to make the big play, we have to make it. It's going to be a tough game to just shove a bunch of go routes down the field."
The question remains: Is playing Boller immediately the correct approach? "I think Brian is doing the right thing because they have the running game and a strong defense and they're not asking him to win games," Jaworski said. "Unfortunately, they didn't run the ball or play good defense in Week 1, the worst scenario for Kyle. No matter how talented you are, young passers get humbled and embarrassed at first. He should be fine."
Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times