Ravens measuring hints of progress by Boller

OWINGS MILLS - Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, compliments cascaded like a waterfall over rookie quarterback Kyle Boller. There was a smattering of adjectives connected to his showing in the Ravens' 24-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers, including words like great and outstanding.


The commentary was probably a bit much considering it was another mediocre statistical line by the strong-armed 22-year-old who ranks last in the AFC in passing.

Yet, the Ravens (2-1) measure performance a tad differently when it comes to the first-round draft pick from Cal. They look for improved mechanics, eliminating the repetition of mistakes, making correct reads and managing the huddle.

Within that vein, the AFC North co-leaders are attempting to build Boller's confidence despite a passing game that ranks last in the NFL. While the offensive formula isn't going to change from having NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis as its centerpiece, Baltimore would like to add some passing to the equation.

"The thing I am most excited for Kyle is every opportunity is a learning situation for him that adds to his collective experience," Billick said. "He made some throws and some decisions on things that he has made some mistakes. "I think he is getting more and more comfortable with just throwing the ball. Believe what you see, be prudent with it, don't be haphazard, but just let it go, son."

Against the Chargers, Boller didn't short-arm as many throws as he did in setting a team mark for least completions with seven against Cleveland. His lone interception was caused by Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap bobbling an accurate throw. Plus, several passes were dropped as Boller completed 12 of his 21 passes for 98 yards, one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 65.2.

At least two other passes should have been picked off by a permissive Chargers secondary. "I feel like I threw the ball a lot better," Boller said. "I stepped into my throws and just kind of winged it. "I told myself this week I was going to stop aiming the ball and just throw it and not try to be so perfect. I think the ball came out of my hand a lot better."

One third-quarter scoring drive is what may have prompted most of the gushing. Boller directed a 72-yard drive capped by his 25-yard fade pass to Heap in the corner of the end zone.

Boller and Heap got the matchup they wanted against a much smaller defender in Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer. Boller lobbed it where only the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Heap could catch it, completing all three passes on the drive for 48 yards and a 17-3 lead.

"It was a big game for Kyle's confidence," Heap said. "I'm excited for him. He played great. He fired it like he's capable of doing. Now that we know what he can do, it's only time for him to get better."

Billick was actually most impressed by Boller's interception, a spiral deflected by Heap to the Chargers' Jerry Wilson. The coach said it was the same type of throw that Browns safety Earl Little intercepted the week before on a Boller underthrow.

"That shows me something," Billick said. "That he can come back to the same situation, have the read and not be afraid to throw it because he had the mistake before and put the ball where it belongs. It's those types of lessons that he's garnering."

Boller has compiled a 53.9 quarterback rating by completing 41-of-81 passes for 328 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. The Ravens rank 30th in the NFL in yards per passing attempt with a 4.05 average.

Yet, Billick is obviously thinking big-picture, and not focusing as much on the short-term returns. "Again, if we could get down four, five, six games and he continues to make the progress, then we will have something," Billick said.

Through three games, Boller has two wins under his belt. That's one more than Troy Aikman's rookie output as he went 1-10 with a hapless 1989 Dallas Cowboys outfit. It's one shy of Peyton Manning's 3-13 mark with the 1998 Indianapolis Colts. Of course, those teams' talent level doesn't come close to matching the Ravens' personnel. It's simply a different measuring stick in Baltimore.

On Sunday, Boller plays against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, which leads the AFC with seven interceptions. The rookie may see some of the aggressive blitzing principles utilized by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I need to take the pressure off myself," Boller said, "and get the ball in the hands of the guys that make the plays."

NOTES: Quarterback Chris Redman, linebacker Adalius Thomas and defensive end Joe Salave'a visited Norbel School on Tuesday for a football clinic for students with special learning needs. ... Safety Gary Baxter will host a screening Thursday of the movie "Rundown" for emergency workers who helped clean up Fells Point after Hurricane Isabel.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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