Boller adjusting well to backup role

WESTMINSTER -- Never mind his fairly obscure supporting cast Saturday afternoon, Kyle Boller was playing quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens and throwing a touchdown pass. It was a nice moment for the oft-criticized former starter.

His performance and grin during the Ravens' scrimmage against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field offered more evidence of how well the first-round draft pick has handled his demotion since the team traded for veteran Steve McNair in June.

Boller completed all but one of his five passes, passing for 54 yards and connecting with wide receiver Travis Latendresse twice before hitting tight end Rob Abiamiri with a short, accurate lob in the corner of the end zone.

Instead of pouting and sulking over becoming the backup after three derided, statistically-challenged seasons under center, Boller is taking the high road.

"Obviously, it's a little frustrating," Boller said. "I've never really doubted my abilities. The second you do that, it's not going to be good. I could be selfish and pout about it, but what good is that going to do?

"I've seen other guys do it. For one, it's selfish and another, it's not going to get you anywhere. I look at it that I'm not a pessimist. I'm an optimist. Who knows? Down the road, this could be a blessing in disguise."

This is the first time in Boller's life that he hasn't been a starter, including his high school days in Southern California.
Now, he's undergoing a career transition and he's determined to accept the change while maintaining his competitive fire.

"I mean this sincerely – and I'm not exaggerating – he's handled this thing A-plus about the way he works," offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said. "There's not a chip on his shoulder. He knows that he needs to show people that he's working.

"I told him right before we came to practice: ‘You are doing very well right now because of your attitude. When you step on that field, the players around you are going to respect you because nobody cares about your problems.' He's been outstanding."

For Boller, handling this unfamiliar situation represents a balancing act between doing the right thing for the team and having the normal reaction to being replaced.

"Kyle's doing great," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's just anxious enough, just (ticked) off enough, challenging himself."

Since the Ravens traded back into the first round with the New England Patriots to draft Boller in 2003 out of Cal after an unsuccessful try at acquiring Byron Leftwich, he has thrown 981 passes and played in 36 games.

His career record is 18-16. He has thrown 32 interceptions, and 31 touchdowns, averaging 165 yards per start.
It's been a case of erratic play despite overhauled mechanics.

Perhaps most important, though, was the absence of an older role model. Boller was thrust into the starting lineup immediately ahead of Chris Redman. Predictably, he struggled.

Now, he has an opportunity to learn from McNair, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player.

"It's different," Boller said. "Sometimes you can look back at it and say, ‘Well, maybe it would have been cool if he came in my first year.'

"I have a great relationship with Steve. He's a great guy. I think I'll be able to learn a lot from him, especially during the season and in game situations."

Last season, Boller completed 70 percent of his passes in victories over the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings where he threw six touchdowns and only one interception.

It appeared that Boller was experiencing a breakthrough, but he came back down to earth in the season finale at Cleveland with a 15-for-36 outing with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

However, Boller is sure that he's making progress. Especially now that he has a lower profile as a backup after undergoing the scrutiny of being the starter.

"I just feel more comfortable out there," Boller said. "I can spit the plays out. I can read the defenses a lot easier. From the last five games last year to now, it's just slowed down. I'm able to have fun out there."

The Ravens haven't seen any signs of Boller sulking, or losing confidence.

There are still setbacks, including an interception in Friday's practice to undrafted free agent cornerbacks Ronnie Prude. Mostly, though, it's been a calmer, more relaxed Boller. Even his speech pattern is less frenetic than the hyperactive rookie that arrived in Baltimore four years ago.

"He's handling it right, but it doesn't mean he's not a competitor," Fassel said. "This will be a defining moment in his career, how he handles it. Nobody cares if you feel sorry for yourself. You're not the only quarterback that's ever gone through it and you won't be the last.

"So, belly-up and show everybody the mental toughness you've got. Be positive. Work hard, and if you get that opportunity on the field, you'll probably play well."

Because of the way McNair's contract is structured – essentially a three-year $20 million arrangement – he's expected to start for at least the next three seasons.

Boller is under contract for the next two years, so his time in Baltimore might come to an end if McNair remains healthy and thrives as the starter.

Boller refuses to dwell on whether he'll be in Baltimore after the 2007 campaign. He's focused on his present situation: being a good backup to McNair.

"If I got worried and caught up in all the down the road stuff, it wouldn't be good," Boller said. "There's no reason to think about it. I'm here right now to do my job.

"When I get in there, I've got a lot to prove and I've got to be ready. I've seen guys that have gone in there and not be ready. I want to make sure that's not me."

NOTE: Today's (Monday's) practice at McDaniel College is closed to the public.

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

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