Inconsistency clouds Boller's future

OWINGS MILLS -- Kyle Boller is battling for survival in his bid to emerge as a viable, fundamentally sound quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. Auditioning for his future, Boller has produced uneven results with rampant inconsistency that raises doubts about his progress and potential.

His latest performance illustrates why it's difficult to forecast whether Boller will be the ultimate answer under center beyond this season, or if he'll be jettisoned after three injury-plagued, statistically-challenged seasons.

In a 42-29 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Boller's three turnovers led to 17 points and a 34-0 deficit. He began the game an erratic 4-for-15 for 37 yards with two interceptions and three fumbles, losing one. He proceeded to complete 14 of 17 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns.

It's that kind of up-and-down outing that increases skepticism about Boller, the lowest-rated starter in the NFL with a 60.5 passer rating.

"Kyle lacks consistency. When you can't be consistent in this league, it's hard to stay with you," Merril Hoge, an ESPN analyst and former NFL running back, said in a telephone interview. "They're at a crossroads with him. I call it Jeff George syndrome. You think he's over the hump, but he never really is.

"Three years is usually a safe time to evaluate. I look at his overall growth and I see a plateau in Kyle. I don't see him ever going to the level they need him to go to, which is unfortunate."

Ever since Baltimore drafted Boller 19th overall in 2003, Ravens coach Brian Billick has been the 24-year-old's staunchest supporter. Billick, who like Boller is under contract through 2007, has lauded the Southern California native for his intangibles. But even Billick admits that the required consistency hasn't been there.

"That's the next box we have to check off," Billick said. "We know he can do it. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind because we've seen it. Now, can it be consistent from game to game? That's part of the criteria.

"We've seen all the things you need to win out of this guy: the athleticism, the checks, the great throws, the running around and making plays. It's not like, ‘Has he ever made a throw? Has he ever completed a pass?'"

Boller performed well in the first half of a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game where he proved his grit by refusing to leave the game after a rough hit from safety Troy Polamalu. But he hasn't had a sustained effort, throwing seven interceptions and four touchdowns.

"The one thing I need to do is put it together for a full game," said Boller, who has a 66.9 career passer rating. "There's no doubt that I feel like I can play in this league and be a starting quarterback. The main thing is I need to be consistent."

Against the Steelers, Boller made the ill-advised decision to pitch the football off Jamal Lewis' helmet at point-blank range after being tackled.
Although it appeared that Boller tripped over his own feet in Cincinnati because of his frenetic approach, Billick claims that his hand-picked quarterback got stepped on once and was tripped by a teammate in another spill.

"I'm not making excuses for him," Billick said. "He mishandled the ball a couple of times. He wore some shoes that were ill-advised. You can't have those things."

The Ravens hired Jim Fassel, who helped develop John Elway, as offensive coordinator and Rick Neuheisel as quarterbacks coach. Yet, Boller has regressed from an encouraging second half of last year.

"Kyle was so mechanical and coached by so many people last year that the kid couldn't even think straight," Hoge said. "Brian has tried to get him in a comfort zone, but he's probably not what you need at quarterback.

"I consider him a manager of a game. When you're a first-round quarterback, they expect you to win games and expand your offense."

The Ravens signed Pro Bowl wide receiver Derrick Mason and drafted Mark Clayton to complement Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, but a slumping running game and a toe injury that kept Boller out for seven games have hurt his cause.

"Kyle doesn't have the skills of a Carson Palmer or a Ben Roethlisberger," Hoge said. "Kyle made a couple of amazing throws against Cincinnati, but he misses too many opportunities. He's got enough weapons around him, but he really lacks a consistent awareness of what's going on around him."

If the Ravens dismiss Boller, they could be limited by a marketplace where there are more quality quarterbacks available via trade -- San Diego's Philip Rivers, Atlanta's Matt Schaub and Tennessee's Billy Volek -- than in free agency. Cincinnati backup Jon Kitna is likely the most attractive option on the open market unless Oakland cuts Kerry Collins.

"Kyle has a clue, Heath Shuler didn't have a clue," said Hoge, referring to the Washington Redskins' infamous quarterback bust. "I'd like to see if they could find a way to go one more year with him, but I don't know if they can afford to do it.

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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