Boller vs. Leftwich: Advantage, Leftwich

OWINGS MILLS -- It has been over three years since quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Byron Leftwich became intrinsically linked through the gamesmanship and high drama of the NFL draft. With Boller under center for the Baltimore Ravens (2-6) against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) on Sunday at Alltel Stadium, it prompts another round of what if's and compare and contrast with Leftwich leading most major categories by a fairly wide margin.

"They'll be compared for their entire careers as long as they're with their respective teams," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I don't know that the comparisons are quite fair right now because Byron has been there pretty much for the duration and Kyle has been in and out because of injury. Those comparisons naturally are going to continue."

The Ravens, particularly general manager Ozzie Newsome and former majority owner Art Modell, coveted Leftwich in the spring of 2003. However, they only had the 10th overall pick of the first round.

With the Minnesota Vikings on the clock and holding the seventh pick, Newsome was working the phones to try to trade to that slot to draft Leftwich. Former Ravens executive James "Shack" Harris, the Jaguars' vice president of player personnel who held the eighth pick, dialed up the Vikings to keep the phone tied up.

Ultimately, time ran out on the Ravens after verbally consummating the terms of a trade. They couldn't finalize the deal because the line to draft headquarters in New York was busy.

Scant seconds after the bewildered Vikings failed to turn in a pick, the Jaguars ran up to the podium and turned in Leftwich's name to nab their franchise quarterback.

The Ravens wound up picking Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs with the 10th pick. At Billick's behest, they traded away the next year's first round pick to New England to draft Boller 19th overall out of Cal-Berkeley. Modell was visibly disappointed at not getting Leftwich.

Since that pivotal day, Leftwich has compiled a resume of above-average numbers and impressive durability.

Meanwhile, Boller has missed 15 games due to injuries, including the first half of this season with a hyperextended right big toe he suffered in the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. He has generally been inconsistent, strugging with his accuracy and staring down primary reads.

However, Boller did improve markedly in the second half of last season before regressing during an alarming preseason.

"I got to know Byron a little bit, and I think we both have our own situations," said Boller, whose injury was cheered by some fans at M&T Bank Stadium. "Things happen for a reason. It's going to be fun to compete against him. I'm sure people are going to compare us, but things are different. Hopefully, we'll come out of there with a win."

In three seasons, Leftwich is 18-17 as a starter. Boller is 14-12, but two losses account for games he started but didn't finish because of injuries.

Statistically, Leftwich has built quite an edge.

He has completed 641 of 1,091 passes (58.8 percent) for 7,396 yards, 40 touchdowns and 31 interceptions for a 79.7 passer rating.

"Everybody is where they want to be," Leftwich told Jacksonville reporters. "I'm very happy in Jacksonville. Things worked out that way for a reason."

Boller has completed 389 of 711 passes (54.7 percent) for 3,960 yards 20 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for a 67.9 passer rating.

Yet, Billick remains a staunch supporter of Boller who's essentially auditioning for his future in these impending eight games.

"He has everything: the arm, athleticism, bright, good vision, natural charismatic character," Billick said. "He has a nice frenetic pace about him. He just needs to play. He needs to get into a rhythm.

"Each of his seasons have been interrupted, so that's probably the biggest disappointment for me. We came into this season with very high expectations obviously as a team and for Kyle. To have that cut short for him because of the injury is very frustrating."

This has been Leftwich's career-best campaign. With 58.2 percent accuracy, he's thrown for 1,636 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions for an 86.8 passer rating that's 10th in the AFC.

"The accuracy, the toughness to make all the throws, you saw all that," Billick said.

In Boller's lone start, he completed 65 percent of his passes for 141 yards and an interception. In the final 10 games of last season, he averaged 182.3 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

"He has to play a lot more for everybody to get a realistic idea of just how good he is," Billick said. "Those who want to decide what kind of quarterback he is on the limited time he's actually played, I think maybe are missing the boat a little bit."

The only previous time Boller and Leftwich dueled was when they were rookies.

The Ravens took a 24-17 win in Baltimore as each quarterback threw one touchdown and an interception.

Leftwich lost two fumbles and threw for 208 yards. Boller, who completed 10 of 23 passes for 156 yards, lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

Now, a rusty Boller is heading to Jacksonville with a lot to prove as he takes over the worst scoring offense in the league.

"There is pressure obviously, but I see it as an opportunity," said Boller, under contract through 2007. "I just want to go out there and be the quarterback that I know I can be. It's frustrating, but injuries are part of the game. I can't get hurt from here on out."

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

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