Game slowing down for Ravens' Boller

BALTIMORE -- Retreating casually in the pocket while staring downfield at attractive targets, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller was enjoying the scenery.<br><br> Instead of evading a dangerous blitz package, Boller was being chased Thursday afternoon by Miss USA beauty pageant contestants in a flag-football game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Between the fetching surroundings, a touchdown strike to Miss Florida and dramatic changes to the Ravens' offensive coaching staff along with the acquisition of veteran wideout Derrick Mason, Boller was understandably upbeat.

Not even an interception Boller tossed to Miss Idaho could dampen his mood.

Entering his third NFL season, Boller is encouraged by the additions of offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel and Mason to try to boost a stagnant passing game. The Ravens finished 31st in total offense and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 mark as offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh resigned after the season.

"There's always pressure, but I'm more excited than anything," Boller said. "I just want to get out there and get things going. I think people are going to be really happy with the changes the organization has made."

For Boller, 23, whom Baltimore drafted in the first round in 2003, this shapes up as a pivotal point in his career.

Boller completed 116 of 224 passes (51.8 percent) for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions as a rookie. In 16 starts last season, Boller completed 258 of 464 passes (55.6 percent) for 2,559 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

In Boller's 25 starts, Baltimore has registered a 14-11 record.

"My numbers have gotten better each year," Boller said. "I think it will drastically improve going into the third year. The game slowed down so much for me the last four or five games that I can't wait until the season starts."

This year will be the first time Boller has had a Pro Bowl wide receiver to throw to and the advantage of an accomplished play-caller on the sidelines. The Ravens' passing offense ranked 21st or lower for the past three seasons under Cavanaugh.

"It's tough," Boller said. "You hear all the criticism. It's obvious our passing game does need to improve."

With injuries to running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap limiting the Ravens' options, the passing game generated only 144.5 yards per contest to rank 31st in the NFL last season.

Now, the play-calling has been entrusted to Fassel, the former New York Giants head coach whose offenses ranked no lower than 13th in passing in his final five seasons with three top 10 rankings.

"I'm ecstatic," Boller said. "Ultimately in the long run, it's really going to help us out. I think there needed to be a change. We need to be more productive on offense. We need to get the passing game going."

While Boller's mechanics looked smoother last season after being tutored by Fassel, he still needs to become more adept at making reads and avoid locking onto his primary target. Boller also led the team with 11 fumbles in 2004, losing seven.

"Going into this year, as young as he was, I liked him myself, but I said, ‘You've got to prove some things to us, so I can trust you,'" Fassel said. "We trust him."

Mason's presence could act as another major instrument of change. The two-time Pro Bowl selection led all NFL wide receivers with 96 receptions last season for the Tennessee Titans.

"You couldn't ask for a better guy," said Boller, who threw to Mason a few times this week at the Ravens' training complex. "He's a great route runner. He knows how to play the game. He's going to be able to teach me a few things. It's going to be a good foundation."

Acting as an ambassador for the pageant along with teammates Chris McAlister, Tony Weaver and Marques Ogden, Boller was the picture of relaxed. If only playing quarterback in the NFL was this simple.

"It's a blur," Boller said of trying to remember the names and states of the Miss USA hopefuls. "They're all so good looking."

NOTES: Ravens scouts attended running back Maurice Clarett's workout in Youngstown, Ohio, where he reportedly improved his 40-yard dash times to 4.67 and 4.68 seconds after clocking a pedestrian 4.87 and 4.72 at the scouting combine. … Weaver sports a special interest in the pageant as he's dating Marina Harrison, Miss Maryland. "You know who I'm rooting for," Weaver said. "I will be there with my Maryland flag." … Tight end Darnell Dinkins will enroll in an educational seminar next week at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The NFL pays for the tuition. … The agent for free agent defensive end Marques Douglas said he remains in discussions with the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers with no deal imminent.

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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