Ravens, Boller in flux

OWINGS MILLS - Gauging the progress of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller involves several barometers. <br><br> How is his pocket presence? How accurate are his passes, and how sound are his decisions? Can last year's first-round draft pick from Cal read defenses, take a hit and lead a huddle?<br><br> Does the 23-year-old win football games?

Through 10 NFL starts, the second-year quarterback draws mixed reviews with higher marks for intangibles and improved fundamentals than tangible results.

In a 20-3 loss to open the season to the Cleveland Browns, Boller completed 22 of 38 passes for 191 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and was sacked three times for a 49.3 passer rating.

It was his first regular-season game since injuring his quadriceps in a loss at St. Louis last season, and the Browns essentially dared him to throw.

"I didn't think Kyle played very well, but I sort of put an asterisk by it since the kid hasn't play a full season yet," said ESPN analyst Joe Theismann, a former Washington Redskins quarterback. "He's going to have to get much better or teams are going to continue to load the line to not let Jamal Lewis run the football. Kyle, or somebody, is going to have to step up for this football team and be efficient at least.

"When people are open, get them the football. Your job is to make plays as a quarterback. I would not close the book on Kyle Boller. He has all the tools, but he's going to have to be a real football player."

Boller was erratic and inaccurate against the Browns, but had the wherewithal to throw the football away when his receivers failed to gain separation downfield.

The Ravens averaged 5.03 yards per passing attempt and running back Jamal Lewis was held to 57 yards on 20 carries.

"I think as much as Kyle got beat up over last week's game, I don't think he did that bad," tight end Todd Heap said. "He actually showed some positives."

Boller also overthrew his intended targets, but appeared much more confident in the pocket. However, two of his three second-half turnovers led directly to 10 points.

"He was smart not to force the ball, which is one of the things I think he did well," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think he showed good judgment. On those plays, either your guy is open or he's not."

A year ago, the Ravens had the NFL's top-ranked rushing game and the lowest-ranked passing game as Boller went 5-4 as a starter. He completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 62.4 passer rating, the second-lowest in the league.

Boller was roughed up by the Steelers' pass rush in his NFL debut, but demonstrated toughness while completing 22 of 43 passes for 152 yards, one score and an interception. Now, he'll play the Steelers again in Sunday's home opener at M&T Bank Stadium.

"It's going to be much different than it was last year," Boller said. "I thought I knew everything going into that game and I really wasn't very prepared. I was young. I didn't know what to expect. I was just hoping. Now, I'm much more experienced."

Boller has received extensive tutoring from a variety of voices, including senior consultant Jim Fassel, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, Billick and quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw. The aim is to make him more technically sound, and, for the most part, that's what's happening. Boller and all involved insist that there's no overlap or over-coaching.

"This kid has more personal coaches than J. Lo has makeup artists," Theismann said. "It's amazing to me, maybe it's overkill. Maybe it's time to step back and let him be a football player instead of being too focused on mechanics.

"It's ironic because there's probably not another quarterback who's surrounded by more quarterback people. I think he looks better throwing the football and is more technically sound, but there's a lot more to it."

Until the Ravens' passing game emerges as a threat, defenses will continue to crowd the line of out of respect for Lewis, a 2,066-yard rusher last year.

"We're getting real close to being really good," Boller said. "When we start connecting on the outside, they're going to start playing a little more passive and it's going to open up a little bit."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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