Boller draws Ravens' interest

Baltimore will assess Cal's strong-armed QB in workout on Thursday

Team studies 10th-pick options

Draft day plans not set as other candidates and positions considered

March 25, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - The Ravens' brain trust will leave the desert to try and clear up some draft haze.

After the NFL owners' meetings end, team officials will take a short trip Thursday to Berkeley, Calif., where they will have a private workout with University of California quarterback Kyle Boller.

With 32 days left before the league draft on April 26, the Ravens remain undecided on whom to select with the 10th pick of the first round, primarily because the front office remains undecided on Boller. He is one of the fastest-rising prospects after impressive offseason workouts, a fact that has the Ravens debating whether he belongs in that elite quarterback tier with Southern California's Carson Palmer - who is expected to be taken in the top five - or Marshall's Byron Leftwich.

At this point, the organization is split, with some favoring Leftwich and others leaning toward Boller. But that decision could be resolved in a couple of days, when general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh have a first-hand look at Boller.

"I don't know that it's indicative of any increased interest," Billick said. "We've said from the get-go there are viable choices at No. 10."

The Ravens are not locked into taking a quarterback in the first round, but it would fill a need as well as being long-term insurance behind Chris Redman, who is coming off back surgery.

Other possibilities could easily include Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant and Oklahoma State defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Drafting a wide receiver with the top pick is a long shot but not out of the question.

"Our draft board is in place but it isn't set in stone," player personnel director Phil Savage said. "The cement is still wet."

While their ranking of quarterbacks is not set, the Ravens might not have a choice on draft day.

The Cincinnati Bengals (first pick), the Chicago Bears (fourth), the Dallas Cowboys (fifth) and the Carolina Panthers (ninth) all could take a quarterback in the first round. But one quarterback should slip to the 10th pick, with the smart money on Boller.

A projected second- or third-round pick during the college season, Boller caught the scouts' attention with a strong Senior Bowl and then wowed them by running the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds.

Boller, 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, raised his stock further at his on-campus workout earlier this month for NFL scouts and coaches, which included Cavanaugh. During his 100-throw display, he launched one pass on the run more than 70 yards in the air and put an exclamation point on the day when he took a knee at midfield and launched a pass that sailed between the goal posts 60 yards away.

"He's athletic and has a strong personality," Billick said. "He has all the measurables, as does Palmer and Leftwich."

To be included in that class, Boller has had to shake off the one-year wonder label.

In his first three years in college, he never completed more than half of his throws. But last season, his first under new Cal coach Jeff Tedford, Boller threw for 2,815 yards and 28 touchdowns.

"His No. 1 forte is his arm strength," Savage said. "But he's had just one year that you would quantify as successful."

All this talk about Boller could be meaningless. There is a possibility that he could be off the board by the time the Ravens pick. The Bengals reportedly have strong interest in him, and the Bears have scheduled a private workout in the first week of April.

If Boller goes that early, the Ravens have a better shot at landing Leftwich.

Considered the best pure passer of this year's class, Leftwich got the attention of many because of his guts. He finished the 2002 season despite a broken shin bone.

But the leg injury prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl or participating at the combine. How he performs at his league workout on April 7 could alter the quarterback draft equation.

"The biggest question mark is the health of his leg," Savage said. "But as far as dropping back, he can make all the passes and has a wide repertoire of throws. Whereas with Kyle Boller, he has touch but I don't think he has developed overall just yet. But he has that potential."

NOTE: Newsome said the team has yet to begin negotiations with free-agent receiver Frank Sanders but plans to speak with his agent soon. The receiver, who spent 2002 with the Arizona Cardinals, visited the Ravens on Friday.

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