Boller working on the fundamentals

OWINGS MILLS – Streamlining the Baltimore Ravens' statistically-challenged passing game looks dependent upon quarterback Kyle Boller improving his mechanics and decisions.<br><br> As the Ravens opened a four-day passing camp Monday at their training complex, Boller was a busy man.<br>

The second-year passer is attempting to develop a rhythm with his receivers to upgrade the lowest-ranked passing game in the league last season. He's also working on fundamental skills that admittedly regressed during his rookie campaign.

Swatting repeatedly at the football and barking into Boller's ears as he dropped back from center during drills, former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel joined the Ravens as a senior consultant this winter.

"He's taught me a lot so far, a lot of things that kind of got away from me during the rookie year where you forget about fundamentals," said Boller, who ranked last in the AFC last season with a 62.4 passer rating. "Last year, I was real tight in the pocket and the ball was up real high. I wasn't really moving fluid. It didn't look good. 

"I'm trying to relax a little bit more, go through my progressions and not be so tight. I feel a lot smoother."

The major focus of Fassel's counsel is to get Boller to polish his movement and choices.

Boller was 5-4 last season after being drafted in the first round from California and supplanting Chris Redman. He completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions before injuring his quadriceps last November against the St. Louis Rams.

"I think he has a huge upside," Fassel said. "I think the guy can be an outstanding quarterback. He's got the physical traits that you're looking for. He's a little young to evaluate as far as his competitive instincts, but he shows me a work ethic and a desire to be good, which is a good starting point."

Fassel is trying to get Boller to look at playing quarterback within a 1-to-10 range, noting a 1 score as terrible enough to cost the team a game and 10 being exemplary.

The operative goal, Fassel said, is to get Boller to play within himself and increase his completion percentage.

"With his agenda, his experience and his arm strength, which is really good, he can try to play at a 9 and 10 level and get himself in a whole lot of trouble," Fassel said. "For him to get better, I told him don't picture yourself playing at 2, 3, 4, and your lowest is a 5. If you play in that 8 range pretty consistently, a lot of things will improve."

Fassel has gleaned from studying game films that Boller hurried too often last year and didn't avoid sacks often enough by dumping the football off to his running backs. Fassel said Boller was in the right ballpark as far as going through his progressions to locate his primary reads. He added that Boller could stand to improve upon his touch from last season.

"I don't think he always put himself in a position to make the best possible throw," Fassel said. "The emphasis I'm trying to make with him is be smooth. Everything is timed. You've got a five-step drop and you're throwing the out route. You've got to drop five steps and throw the out route on time. He needs to be smooth and comfortable and in control of himself to make that type of throw." 

A John Elway fan, Boller has now regained No. 7, his college number, since Redman's departure. Elway was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy with Fassel as his offensive coordinator at Stanford in 1983. With Fassel as the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator, Elway was the league's Most Valuable Player in 1993.

Boller wasn't relied upon heavily as Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis led the league with 2,066 rushing yards last season.

Boller's top showing for accuracy was 57.7 percent against the Arizona Cardinals. His worst was 41.2 percent against the Cleveland Browns in his second NFL start. 

"You want to be efficient, and the way to be efficient is through completions and not forcing the ball," Boller said.

Describing Fassel's intended influence, Ravens coach Brian Billick said: "Just another set of eyes and experienced perspective in terms of those fundamentals of wrapping around Kyle what's best for him. He's a guy that maybe can see the forest for the trees because he hasn't been with us."

Fassel is splitting his time between Baltimore and his New Jersey home and is likely to only be with the Ravens for one season before pursuing another head-coaching job.

"The only way this thing will work between Brian and I is our egos can't get in the way," Fassel said. "My ego can't get in the way and neither can Brian's, and it won't because we know each other. So far, it has worked very well."

Meanwhile, Boller appeared much more poised than he was a year ago at his first NFL minicamp.

"Not that he wasn't calm before, but think about where he was a year ago and what was going through his mind," Billick said. "That's why to a large degree we did what we did last year, starting the season with him at Pittsburgh. I think we'll see a return on the investment."

Now, the Ravens have added Fassel to the coaching staff, traded for veteran receiver Kevin Johnson and drafted rookie wideout Devard Darling to go with Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and former first-round pick Travis Taylor

Although Billick stressed that the defending AFC North champions will remain a run-oriented outfit, Boller wants to erase perceptions about the team's passing offense.

"I take that as a personal thing," Boller said. "I want teams to respect us and know that we do have a good passing game."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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