Boller is on the spot

On the first day of training camp, all eyes are usually fixated on the quarterback. He is the focal point of the offense, focal point of the team, despite whatever his role may be.

If you are focusing on the top dogs like Manning, McNair and Favre, you are simply wondering whether or not they can keep up the pace they've set in years past. In the case of players like McNabb, Vick, Culpepper and Hasselbeck, the question is how of much of the rough parts of their games need to be smoothed out for them to get to the level of a Brett Favre.

And in the case of the Ravens' second-year quarterback Kyle Boller, the questions are even more cavernous.

Can Boller uplift the dreadful quarterback rating of 62.4 that he produced a year ago? Can Boller improve his accuracy, completing around 55-to-60% of his passes? Can Boller learn how to throw the ball away in a critical situation to preserve favorable field position or a scoring opportunity instead of taking a bigger, yet unnecessary gamble? Can Boller be less prone to turning the ball over than he was a year ago? Can Boller scan the field with deeper scope, and hone his footwork in order to release the ball with improved timing and a consistent velocity? Can Boller lean on his second and third options in the passing game more frequently, instead of zeroing in on his primary target even when he's tightly covered?

The answers to these questions won't be solved until after the season, or even further down the road. Boller's development will take longer because he's had to relearn how to play the position more times than other quarterbacks needed to. Those quarterbacks simply progress from one stage to the next. In Boller's case, he's needed a couple of overhauls.

The best example of this case is when Boller came to the University of California as one of the hottest quarterback prospects in the country. He had the deep touch. He had the mobility. He had the size. He could throw the ball with enough zip to break a receiver's finger.

But he didn't know how to play the position, and the coaches that he played under for three seasons didn't do a good enough job of teaching him at California. Boller didn't blossom into a competent quarterback until his senior year, when new coach Jeff Tedford acted like Dr. Frankenstein during his process of Boller's reconstruction—he built back up Boller's confidence, cleaned up his mechanics and compacted his throwing motion.

The results were good, but not good enough. Boller put together a much better TD/INT ratio, but he still couldn't crack the 60% completion mark, and he still couldn't scan the entire field with fluid precision—Tedford often cut Boller's reads in half. There is no question that Tedford took on a major undertaking, and succeeded in bringing Boller back from the dead, but it's unfortunate that Boller had to graduate after the season concluded.

Where Tedford left off is where Ravens coaches Brian Billick, Matt Cavanaugh, David Shaw and Jim Fassel, have to continue the thorny process of Boller's development.

Although all of the coaches work as a committee to refine various aspects of Boller's game, it is Fassel that has assumed the mentorship role to Boller. Fassel is regarded as one of the top quarterback developers in the game. He took some of the most physically talented signal callers under his wing over the years (Phil Simms, John Elway Kerry Collins) and turned them into efficient, mechanically sound quarterbacks.

Now it's Boller's turn. Fassel has spent the entire offseason ironing out the kinks in Boller's game. He's expanded Boller's throwing motion, shortened his drop steps and poked away at the football every time the franchise's keeper held it in order to test his ability to clutch the ball as if he was clutching a new born baby in any situation.

The other coaches took on the task of improving Boller's film study and game preparation habits. The word is that Boller has now developed into a film junkie, always studying the opponents and his own performance in his spare time.

The $64 million dollar question is, after all of this prodding, will there be a payoff? In the Ravens' scheme, that payoff doesn't need to be significant. Boller could simply develop into a caretaker quarterback capable of hitting on two or three big plays in each game. That would be enough to suffice the needs of this team, which relies on a brutish running game and a forbidding defense to wear down other teams.

Except Boller has the potential to be a better player than that. If the Ravens felt that he didn't, it wouldn't have given up its 2004 first-round pick as part of a trade package to attain his rights in the first place. The front office would have signed another journeyman quarterback to continue the game of musical chairs that the team has played for way too many seasons.

This is Boller's chance to grab the throne when the music stops. Starting today, he can end the endless carousel at the quarterback position.

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