Boller's injury forces Ravens to scramble

November 11, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

THE SADDEST PART is that Kyle Boller was just coming upon his real NFL awakening.

"It [was] the `OK, let's see where we can go with this. I kind of got that rookie-itis out of me, let's see where I can take this team. We know who we are. We know what we have to do. I've seen a lot of what the NFL is all about,' " Ravens coach Brian Billick lamented.

But yesterday, upon hearing the terrible news that the spunky kid quarterback who had been handed the keys to the franchise was likely done for the season, Billick promised he would cry in his beer later. With a 5-4 record and a shot at the playoffs, there's no time to weep.

It was a stoic reaction, considering that since the Ravens' heady draft day, Billick has acted as if he had found his long-lost son - or at least a prototypical quarterback hatched in the laboratory of Billick's guru imagination.

Heck, even with all of Boller's rawness, it was tough to disagree with Billick - or at least not understand why Billick was so seduced by Boller. His arm and legs, energy and charisma presented possibilities not foreseeable in lesser talents. Sorry, Chris Redman.

One day, with proper seasoning, this Boller kid might be able to do some really fun things. Open up the offense with the deep ball. Scramble out of trouble. Hand off to Jamal Lewis.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said yesterday that the Ravens' primary goal was to get to the playoffs this season and that Boller was their best chance of getting them there. That says more about the AFC North and the prowess of the Ravens' defense than it does about the ability of Boller to carry any real weight.

"Kyle was getting better, but we never wanted to put our entire offensive production in Kyle's hands. That was never the plan from the outset," Newsome said.

Still, of all the things the team hoped to accomplish this season, shepherding Boller through his inaugural NFL season with as many starts, games, reps and minutes as possible was one of the organization's top priorities.

How else do we explain that during training camp, when Boller was a holdout, Billick threatened that Boller was already so far behind Redman and Anthony Wright, he couldn't catch up.

Well, what did we know? Practically from the minute Boller's plane touched down in Maryland, the kid was not only good to go, but he was also anointed starter and king.

What percentage of this Ravens' season was designated to the development of the rookie quarterback? If we said 75 percent, that wouldn't sound like a wild exaggeration at all.

Getting into the playoffs, after all, was the best way to complete Boller's learning process and prepare him for next season. In the woefully bad AFC North, the Ravens could compete even while developing their rookie quarterback. And if they got to 5-3, as they did heading into St. Louis, getting some buzz for being a division leader, it was all gravy for a team whose best shot at a Super Bowl run was 2004, anyway.

That's why losing Boller is a pretty big hit for the Ravens - and not just because the Ravens will now scramble to bring in a third option, because there's no guarantee Redman or Wright will get the job done. There is just a huge gulf between what the Ravens think about Boller and what they think these other two can - or can't - do.

Once the Ravens made the decision to dedicate so much of this season to seasoning Boller, they were essentially willing to squander some of their defensive prowess. Is there any doubt Ray Lewis and Co. would be even more fearsome and playoff-bound if paired with an offense that could actually move the ball in the red zone? Move the ball forward, that is.

Not only is the Ravens' stalwart defense left stranded, but now the organization's goal of developing Boller also can't be fulfilled.

"One of the attractive things about starting Kyle from the first day was the cumulative experiences that he would get this year, hopefully a playoff experience, that when he started next year for us, that his level of experience is nothing but enhanced," Billick said.

Now, it's all about Redman, Wright and a mystery date. Good thing the inept Dolphins are on deck. With a quarterback quandary of their own, the skidding Fish are a team the Ravens can eat up - if Redman can keep from imploding. He might get a very small window to prove it. Say, two quarters? Redman's confidence might be improved, therefore improving his chances to speed things up, make plays, stop falling down, now that Boller is out of the picture. But some of that might depend on whether Redman believes Billick can rely on Redman.

That's where there could be problems. It's tough to imagine Billick will throw as much enthusiasm and energy at a fill-in as he did mentoring Boller.

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