Boller appears more poised in Ravens' scrimmage

WESTMINSTER -- It was merely the opening act of football season, but Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller drew favorable reviews.<br><br> In the annual Friday night scrimmage at McDaniel College before a record crowd of 16,820, Boller was markedly more accurate than his rookie season. <br><br>

His poise and composure appeared improved as the offense emerged with a 23-19 victory that was claimed on the final series as rookie quarterback Josh Harris hit tight end Daniel Wilcox on fourth down for a 17-yard touchdown.

Boller looked more polished than a year ago when he was the second-lowest ranked passer in the NFL, completing 10-of-13 passes for 110 yards, no interceptions and no scores.

"Smooth, was in control, understood what he needed to do," was Ravens coach Brian Billick's assessment of Boller.

It was the steady, albeit unspectacular work the defending AFC North champions are hoping for from Boller as they look to improve upon the worst-ranked offense in the league from last season.

With Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister absent because of a contract dispute and Gary Baxter out as he recovers from abdominal hernia surgery, Boller took advantage.

He found receivers Randy Hymes and Travis Taylor on well-timed throws for 30 and 25 yards, respectively.

"I really felt like I was under a lot more control," Boller said. "I want to be efficient. I want to move the ball, but the main thing is I've really been working on my mechanics and fundamentals.

"I wanted to, under a game situation with a rush, really concentrate on good, fundamental throws."

Boller threw no touchdowns, but led drives of 30, 60 and 21 yards as he completed passes to seven different receivers.

Consecutive sacks on the opening drive, one by Ray Lewis and Will Demps and another from Terrell Suggs, quelled the scoring opportunity.

"You always want to get the touchdown, but we're playing against a great defense," Boller said. "We need to watch the film, look at the little things and try to get in the end zone."

Wilcox caught four passes for 57 yards as fellow tight end Brett Pierce finished with seven receptions for 50 yards.

"Dan Wilcox continues to impress us," Billick said.
Taylor caught three passes for 38 yards, including an acrobatic 25-yard reception to close the first half.

"The confidence is great right now, especially on that last ball," Taylor said. "I didn't think he was going to throw it, but he threw it anyway. We have to make this offense our offense and have confidence in each other that we can make plays for each other."

Meanwhile, new backup quarterback Kordell Stewart was intercepted once by cornerback Ray Walls, going 5-for-8 for 48 yards.

With Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis leaving after the first series with one yard on two carries, backups Chester Taylor and Musa Smith took up the slack.

Taylor gained 50 yards on eight carries, but later dropped a pass that turned into a 50-yard interception return by rookie linebacker John Garrett.

Smith rushed for 34 yards on seven carries, leaping over the top of the defense for a touchdown in the second half.

"Chester and Musa ran strong and showed some good signs," Billick said.

The story line of the evening, though, was Boller's progress, which was what the largest crowd since 14,000 attended the annual scrimmage in 2001 was in Westminster to see.

Boller went 5-4 as a rookie starter with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Now, he feels more confident, and his teammates in him.

"I feel like I have a little more command of the huddle," Boller said. "I feel like they trust me more, but I still have a long ways to go."

NOTES: Rookie defensive tackle Matt Zielinski suffered a severe knee injury and declared himself out for the season as he crutched through the lobby of the team hotel. "I'm done," he said. ... Wade Richey defeated Matt Stover in the field-goal kicking contest with a 61-yard effort. Stover topped out at 57 yards. "My leg still feels strong," said Stover, whose kick fell a few yards shy of the crossbar at 61 yards. "That's really not my distance, though." ... Linebackers T.J. Slaughter and Cornell Brown were the leading tacklers with seven apiece.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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