Boller to start against Patriots

WESTMINSTER -- Surrounded by a phalanx of microphones and cameras, Kyle Boller didn't even try to feign surprise that he had been chosen to lead a different huddle Thursday night. It was hardly an unexpected development for the Baltimore Ravens' veteran quarterback to learn that he'll be starting the preseason opener against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

"I had a feeling that it might happen, being that I have been around here a little bit," Boller said Tuesday morning at McDaniel College. "I'm very excited. I know it's a preseason game, but it's very important to us to go out there and execute and get the things done that we've been working hard on these past few months."

For Boller, leading the offense first offers a prime opportunity to reverse the recent downward trend of his career.

The inconsistent former first-round draft pick was benched when the Ravens acquired Steve McNair three years ago. Now, he's trying to fend off the challenge of former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco.

Once handpicked by former Ravens coach Brian Billick, Boller is attempting to prove himself to new coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as he enters the final year of his contract.

Although starting this game is obviously a positive for Boller's prospects, the reality is that he's merely getting the first turn in the quarterback competition.

Harbaugh indicated that a different quarterback will start the second game. That's likely to be Smith, who's still considered the leader to start the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Smith and Flacco are slated to split time in the second half as Boller is projected to play the majority of the first half.

Largely because of Boller's 42 career starts compared to Smith's two and Flacco's zero, he's getting the call.

"I think it's more of a nod to experience and seniority," Harbaugh said. "Kyle's been here, so he gets the first game."

Yet, this is still Boller's shot to alter the pecking order in a tight arms race.

"How I play in these games is going to determine who is going to be the starter," Boller said. "Every one of these games is extremely important.

"You get very limited reps, so you've got to take advantage of every rep that you have and every throw that you have. You've got to do everything you can to win that job. The game tape is what they're going to look at."

The key for Boller is maintaining his composure, balancing his enthusiasm at taking on the Patriots while not stumbling in his mechanics, accuracy and decision-making.

Cutting down on turnovers is the top priority.

"I can't put so much pressure on myself that I need to be perfect every play," Boller said. "I hope I am, but if something goes wrong, it's not the end of the world. I've got to go out and do what I know I am capable of doing."

Drafted in the first round out of Cal-Berkeley in 2003, Boller started for his first three seasons and has completed 56.9 percent of his throws for 7,846 yards, 45 touchdowns and 44 interceptions for a 71.9 passer rating.

"Every time I'm on a football field, I want to play the best football that I can," Boller said. "That ultimately doesn't matter if it's the preseason, regular season or the postseason. I'm trying to go out there and play the best that I can. I want to be the best preseason quarterback."

Since the start of training camp, Boller has been fairly consistent and content to take what the defense offers and simply manage the game. During other sequences, he has still been prone to turnovers with too many staredowns of his primary read and interceptions.

"I'm pleased with how I've done," Boller said. "I feel like each day gets a little bit easier. My main thing is that the things I learn in each practice. I'm not going to be perfect. There are going to be balls that I throw that maybe I don't want to throw there."

Any mistakes could be crucial. Boller will enter this game without running back Willis McGahee due to a knee injury with rookie Ray Rice starting in his place. Plus, starting offensive tackles Adam Terry and Jared Gaither are out with sprained ankles.

Smith will be waiting in the wings for his turn as he tries to master Cameron's intricate playbook.

"Definitely, I've got to get better within the offense," said Smith, who threw 76 passes last season in two starts with no interceptions and two touchdowns. "There are so many things that I'm still learning that are often on the table. I need to get a feel for this offense because it's a lot to handle."

Meanwhile, Flacco is still learning on the job and trying to overcome an anticipated touch of nerves as he makes his NFL debut. His development has been marked by trying to adjust to the speed of the game and developing a change-up to go with a vaunted fastball.

"I'm anxious, I think most people would be," Flacco said. "It's the first time you get a chance to step on the field at the NFL level. That's a pretty big accomplishment.

"I'm anxious to get it going and just see what it's like. My strategy is to go out there and play football the way I know how." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital

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