Ravens' offense - unwanted stepchildren?

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens' profile heading into an AFC North title defense hasn't dramatically changed its inventory.<br><br> Aggressive defense led by All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis? Check.<br><br> Bruising rushing game built around Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis? Check.<br><br> Creating a viable passing game? The Ravens will find out this fall.<br>

The passing game remains an uncertain, fluid issue as the Ravens head into a hiatus until reporting to training camp July 29 in Westminster as they concluded their final minicamp Thursday.

The Ravens finished with the lowest-ranked passing game in the NFL last season, averaging 141.3 yards per contest. 

It was a drastic, unbalanced contrast to Jamal Lewis' league-high 2,066 yards on the ground en route to winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors.

"It will be a lot better," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Will we lead the league in passing? Probably not. Any snap that we take away from the running game would be foolhardy.

"We aren't going to all of a sudden run the ball less and throw the ball more, so the productivity of the passing game needs to feed off of itself in order to increase and become a better passing attack." 

One year after labeling the offense as the unwanted stepchildren of the team, receiver Travis Taylor acknowledged that the reputation is unchanged. He stressed that only consistent production can erase the widely-held perception about the Ravens' chief shortcoming.

"I think we're still the stepchildren, but we're not going to settle for that status," Taylor said. "We want people to respect us. We want to go out and become one of the best all-around offenses in the league.

"I understand why people talk bad about us. We haven't proven anything yet, but we're going to. If we can get to the top 20 or top 15 in passing and do the same thing rushing, we can be champions." 

Quarterback Kyle Boller finished as the second-lowest rated passer (62.4) in the league during nine starts as a rookie last year. Meanwhile, Taylor slumped to 39 receptions as Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap led the team with 57 catches.

Boller turned 23 Thursday and flew back to California for a few weeks to visit his family and actress girlfriend Tara Reid.

The first-round draft pick from last year compared his progression from rookie to NFL sophomore to the ascension of a high school freshman to a senior. Boller was 5-4 as a starter last season with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions before injuring his leg and giving way to backup Anthony Wright.

Since last season, the Ravens traded for veteran receiver Kevin Johnson, drafted Washington State wideout Devard Darling in the third round and hired former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel as a senior consultant.

"Just being more efficient is going to really help us have more completions," said Boller, who completed 51.8 percent of his passes last year. "We have everybody that we need. I just need to put the ball in their hands."

The major point of emphasis during off-season drillls has been to improve the team's completion percentage through the execution of accurate, short passes. Fassel has worked closely with Boller on streamlining his throwing motion and wasting less time when dropping back from center.

Fassel said he tries not to overload Boller with advice, offering little tips to remember about play-calling and the mechanics of throwing.

"I need to continue to improve on reading defenses," Boller said. "There's always little things that you can get from a defense, certain things that are going to give away coverages. 

"Once you know that, the game is really easy. I can never work on my fundamentals and mechanics enough because that's just going to improve my accuracy."

Last season, Boller passed for 1,260 yards, completing 116-of-224 passes. Baltimore went 10-6 overall and averaged 6.1 yards per passing attempt.

Billick said the Ravens would still be likely to run the football over 500 times this season after attempting 553 runs last season and 415 passes. 

"As long as Jamal is healthy, we are going to do that," Billick said.

The Ravens' opponents attempted 531 passes and 448 running plays.

Boller said he's aware that opposing defensive coordinators will derive extensive scouting reports from his nine starts, focusing on his tendencies and bad habits.

"A lot of stuff I've been able to scout myself on and say, "You can't do this, you can't do that, you can't stare down receivers, you can't do this with your feet,'" Boller said. "It's going to be harder for them to stop me."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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