Boller opening eyes, but future still unclear

OWINGS MILLS -- Kyle Boller has defied the book on him by demonstrating poise and accuracy while making the sort of wise decisions he appeared incapable of scant weeks ago. Although nothing has been guaranteed to the Baltimore Ravens' suddenly effective quarterback as far as remaining the starter in 2006, he appears to be closing in on that job security as the Ravens head into their season finale at Cleveland.

In a span of two weeks, Boller has engineered two decisive victories and begun to alter his embattled, error-prone reputation. He has completed 43 of 61 passes for 542 yards, six touchdowns and one interception as Baltimore (6-9) has defeated the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings by a combined margin of 78-26.

"Obviously it helps," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday regarding his evaluation of Boller. "But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, so we'll see what he does this week, too. Can you follow up two good performances? It never seems to end."

The most likely scenario in the offseason looks to be the Ravens conditionally committing to Boller as their starter while trying to augment the position with a veteran in case Boller falters.

There has been rampant speculation about everyone from Kerry Collins to Jon Kitna to Steve McNair along with potential trades for Matt Schaub or Philip Rivers. It's unclear whether that quarterback will be a mere backup or a viable challenger for the job.

"There's a wide variety of things we could do. The most operative question is, who would that be?" Billick said. "We could target a lot of guys."

Billick said that he would discount the rust Boller demonstrated in his first couple weeks back after missing eight weeks with a toe injury.

"You would be wrong in your analysis to not take into account how the season has gone and the injury," Billick said. "It makes it tougher. You have to extrapolate certain things out. I'll look at the last eight games of last year where he started to do some things.

"We now have two sets of data where we can say there's an up curve there and an up curve here. Maybe that's going to be more helpful."

Still wearing his eye black shortly before midnight Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Boller had trouble specifying why he's transformed from one of the most derided starters in the league to arguably the hottest quarterback in the NFL.

Other than upgraded pass protection -- Boller has only been sacked twice in the last two weeks -- little has changed while everything has changed.

"Everything is just clicking," Boller said. "It's one of those things where I can't wait to get back out on the field. I kind of feel like I know that somebody is going to be open every time.

"I really do see the field more clearly now. My offensive line is blocking great. My toe feels really good right now. I feel a lot more mobile."

Against the Broncos, Boller was clumsy, shaky and clearly off-rhythm.

Against the Packers and Vikings, he was decisive, confidence and timely.

Boller looks like an altogether different quarterback in comparison to a three-turnover outing in Denver where he seemed to bottom out.

"Sometimes, it's funny, you have to reach a certain low," center Mike Flynn said. "I felt like it was kind of a last straw. It was the first time I saw him down at practice.

"You can only take so much abuse before it gets to you. It's good he can take that negative energy and go out and make some plays."

Billick has witnessed much calmer mechanics from Boller, who has slowed down his frenetic pace. He referenced an 11-yard pass Boller delivered to Derrick Mason as a prime example that he's starting to get it.

"The nature of his throws are much more under control," said Billick, who also made a comparison to San Diego quarterback Drew Brees' development. "One in particular to Derrick Mason, he scrambled to his left and just before he threw, you could see him just settle himself ever so slightly, which he wasn't doing before.

"I think it shows he's beginning to understand the mechanics and slow down a little bit. That's probably the biggest thing."

Billick said that Boller did not seek the counsel of a sports psychologist, adding that it might be a little early to characterize this as a turning point in an up-and-down career.

In the two games, Boller has compiled a cumulative 125.1 quarterback rating. More importantly, the 2003 first-round draft pick has taken a workmanlike approach toward his success and hasn't behaved like he has figured out the game.

"I think he needs to keep it low-key and in perspective every game," tight end Todd Heap said. "He has to act like that is the way we need to play all the time. I think he realizes that. That is his personality."
 

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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