For now, Boller remains a starter

OWINGS MILLS -- Kyle Boller didn't behave like a quarterback who might be working on borrowed time as the Baltimore Ravens' starter. He barked out signals in the huddle. He lofted spirals downfield into the outstretched hands of Derrick Mason. And the 2003 first-round draft pick adjusted comfortably to blitzes and coverage schemes Tuesday as the Ravens began a three-day minicamp.

Keenly aware that his grasp on the starting job is tenuous because of the Ravens' aggressive pursuit of Tennessee Titans veteran Steve McNair, Boller is attempting to make the best of an awkward, fluid situation.

"I'm going about my business right now like I'm the starter," said Boller, who has a 69.2 career quarterback rating. "If I'm going to lose sleep over, ‘Is Steve coming?' it's just a waste of time. .. If Steve comes, then things are probably going to change."

Time appears to be growing short on Boller's three-year starting tenure that has been marked by erratic performances and a string of injuries that have limited him to 36 starts.

"Right now, Kyle Boller is our starting quarterback," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who acknowledged his excitement regarding McNair. "Kyle is carrying himself, conducting himself and preparing himself to be the No. 1 quarterback. There's no reason to take any other approach for him or the team."

Meanwhile, the Ravens and McNair have struck a five-year agreement that includes an $11 million signing bonus.

However, McNair remains in limbo because Tennessee and Baltimore haven't agreed on trade compensation and the Titans may attempt a last-ditch effort to restructure his current deal to reduce a $23.46 million salary-cap figure.

Mason emphasized that he hasn't lobbied Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome to sign McNair.

"Kyle is my quarterback right now," said Mason, who made two Pro Bowls during his eight seasons playing with McNair in Nashville, Tenn. "Whatever happens in the future, I'm not in control of that. Right now, Kyle is my quarterback and I have a lot of faith in Kyle that he can get the job done."

It's possible that McNair might not officially become a Raven until July when Tennessee will need to clear salary-cap space to sign a draft class that includes quarterback Vince Young.

So, for the moment, it's Boller's job.

"I'm not really worried about it until it happens," Boller said. "I've been hearing about it for a couple of months now, and it hasn't happened. Was it my first choice? No. Is it my second choice? Yeah.

"He's a proven veteran, he's a guy I can learn from, which I have never been able to do. Since I was a rookie, I had to learn to do things on my own."

That hasn't always worked out ideally for Baltimore or Boller, who has thrown 32 interceptions and 31 touchdown passes.

Now, Boller is handling the adversity of possibly being replaced as the starter and watching the 33-year-old McNair quarterback the team Billick handpicked him to lead.

When asked if his teammates still believe in him, Boller replied: "I think they trust me. I think I have good chemistry with them. If something were to happen where Steve came in here, they know I'm still going to be the leader that I am and I'm going to do anything I can to help this team win."

Even if Boller has rarely drawn praise for his consistency, accuracy or mechanics, his teammates have demonstrated respect for his intangibles, including his ability to take a hit on or off the field.

"I think Kyle has handled it like a professional," tight end Todd Heap said. "Kyle and I are good friends and I'm protective of Kyle because I know what he's capable of.

"Obviously, it's a hard situation for him with all this buzz going on. It hasn't happened yet, but obviously it's going to be hard on him just like it would be hard on anybody. I think he's handled it in the right way."

If the Ravens land McNair -- an 11-year veteran and a former NFL Co-MVP -- this would represent Boller's first chance to learn from an experienced passer unlike his NFL initiation when he immediately supplanted Chris Redman.

"I would definitely look at it optimistically," Boller said. "It would be silly for me not to use to my advantage. If I was selfish and said, ‘Oh, they're bringing him in. They have no confidence in me,' that's my fault.

"I'm going to use it as a stepping stone to try to get where I need to be in this league. If he were to come in, I would try and pick his brain."

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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