Notebook: Boller to remain under center

SAN DIEGO -- Kyle Boller will quarterback the Baltimore Ravens during Monday night's game against the undefeated New England Patriots, and possibly for the remainder of the season. Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated Monday that Steve McNair, who was originally projected to miss two to three weeks with a partially dislocated, non-throwing shoulder, isn't recovered from his injury.

That means that Boller will start against New England (11-0) as Baltimore (4-7) tries to snap a franchise-record five-game losing streak.

"He's progressing, but there's a limitation in how far he can bring that arm up," Billick told reporters during his weekly press conference at the Ravens' training complex in Owings Mills. "It's progressing. This week, he won't be ready and we'll go week by week after that to see where he is."

Billick was noncommittal when pressed on whether McNair will regain the starting job once he's recuperated from the injury to his left shoulder.

"Don't know, we'll see," Billick said.

That stance reinforces what Billick said about McNair's status when he was initially hurt against the Cincinnati Bengals as he acknowledged that Boller could continue to start even when McNair is ready to play again.

The Ravens have no plans to insert Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, the team's fifth-round draft pick from Ohio State.

"Not by design," Billick replied when asked if the team was going to play Smith, who completed 48.6 percent of his throws during the preseason with no touchdown passes and one interception.

INJURY UPDATE: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is a question mark for the New England game due to a fractured thumb sufffered during a 32-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

The Ravens regard Johnson's injury as the "most serious," Billick said.

Johnson also incurred a minor concussion.

If Johnson is unable to play, the Ravens would start rookie Antwan Barnes, the team's fourth-round draft pick from Florida International who has been operating as a situational pass rusher.

"[The trainers] think they can do some things with it," Billick said of Johnson's prognosis. "Obviously, if anybody can play with that kind of pain, it would be Jarret. There's not too many tougher."

Tight end Todd Heap's status is uncertain due to a nagging strained hamstring.

"He either will or he won't," Billick said. "I hate to be so vague, but I don't know that Todd knows for sure until he progresses during the week. He pushes it and then there comes a point where it either grabs again or it doesn't."

OLE MISS CALLING?: Offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel, the former University of Washington and University of Colorado head coach, has been mentioned as a candidate for the vacant Ole Miss job in several published reports.

Billick said that if Neuheisel is offered a college job he would be allowed to leave his post in Baltimore even before the season is over, adding that's one of the reasons why he is not inclined to give up the play-calling duties.

"Rick Neuheisel has been and will make an outstanding college coach," Billick said. "The college game needs coaches like Rick Neuheisel. ... I would be very surprised if a number of schools weren't interested in Rick Neuheisel, and we'll support that in every way.

"That was one, just one, of the factors in my analysis in figuring that I'd keep the play-calling because Rick Neuheisel is an outstanding talent. In what we had hoped would be a playoff run year, for him to go on, which would only be fair to the school that he goes, that was part of the reasoning why I did what I did in terms of the play-calling. Yes, if that were to happen and he were to get a head job, he would be allowed to attack those duties completely and full-time."

TURNOVER BLUES: The Ravens' quarterbacks have lost 10 fumbles and the team has a minus-11 turnover margin.

No drill or strategy has solved the turnover crisis.

"It's frustrating because there's always something you want to do more," Billick said. "You want to be able to fix it as a coach. You can't always, except to try and bring the appropriate focus to it and give the players an opportunity to practice not doing it."

QUICK HITS: Billick defended offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who struggled against Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman with seven tackles, one sack and one forced fumble). "I think J.O. is playing well," Billick said. "He's still one of the best tackles in the league, in my opinion. That was a stiff challenge the other day. J.O. does get victimized a little bit, because he's such a great player that he gets put out there by himself a lot more than is probably fair." ...

Wide receiver Devard Darling regressed against the Chargers, dropping passes one week removed from a career-high four-catch, 107-yard, one-touchdown outing. "Devard, as he has gone through training camp and during the year, has struggled a little bit with catching the ball and you pump him up and work him after practice on the ball machine and you try to make him feel as good as he can about it," Billick said. "The heart comes back to someone like Devard. Devard has caught the ball well and showed that he can help this football team." ...

Tight end Lee Vickers caught his first NFL pass against San Diego, but it went for minus-1 yards. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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