No doubt, Boller's in charge

Ravens teammates see a new poise, confidence in their second-year QB

`I am the leader of this ... team'

Fundamentals stressed during first passing camp

May 18, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Kyle Boller's second season as the Ravens' starting quarterback has begun with a new girlfriend, a new coach and a new target.

The biggest change, however, may be with Boller himself.

As the Ravens kicked off their first passing camp of the offseason yesterday, coaches and players took notice of a calmer Boller. The times of being unsure in the huddle or tight in the pocket appeared to have been left behind with his days as a rookie.

"I can definitely sense a change in his demeanor," said Todd Heap, the Ravens' Pro Bowl tight end. "You see that confidence that maybe wasn't there as much last year. This is the year where he knows he has to step up."

Boller's offseason - which has included an ongoing romance with Tara Reid since he ran into the 28-year-old actress in New York a month ago - has been more dedicated toward stepping up on the field.

The former first-round pick has built a house in the area with a home theater room where he can break down film and has showed up regularly to throw to receivers at the team's practice complex.

The Ravens, in turn, have assembled an improved supporting cast to help him rebound from a rookie season in which he finished with an AFC-worst quarterback rating of 62.4.

They hired former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel as a senior consultant to tutor Boller on fundamentals. They traded for receiver Kevin Johnson to give Boller one of the most reliable sets of hands in the league.

But Boller, 22, who went 5-4 before a leg injury forced him out of the starting lineup for the rest of the season, seems to understand it invariably will be up to him to re-establish command of this offense.

"I'm the starting quarterback, and I am the leader of this football team," Boller said. "It's going to be my job to get this offense being productive and efficient. I've done everything in my will this offseason to get better. From my play, my teammates are going to know that `this is the guy, and we're going to rally around him.' "

Boller spent the first day of passing camp being as much of a listener as a leader.

After nearly every drill, Fassel was in Boller's ear about his footwork or his throwing motion. There was even an instance when Boller dropped back and had to hold onto the ball while Fassel vigorously tried to slap it away.

"A lot of times during your rookie season, you forget about fundamentals," Boller said. "He's come in here and really explained to me what I got away from during my rookie year."

The goal is to keep Boller relaxed in the pocket and moving more fluidly.

"I think he can be an outstanding quarterback," said Fassel, who has coached such quarterbacks as John Elway and Kerry Collins. "He's got the physical traits that you're looking for. Right now, he's a little young to evaluate everything as far as competitiveness. But he has showed me a work ethic and a desire to be good, which is a good starting point."

The starting point for Boller and Johnson was more of a misconnection of sorts.

It was only eight months ago that Johnson, then with the Cleveland Browns, tried to rattle Boller by jawing with the rookie during pre-game warm-ups.

When Boller jokingly brought it up to Johnson yesterday, Boller said: "He didn't really say much about it. Now he is on my side of the ball, and the only thing he'll be yelling at me is for the ball.

"Kevin Johnson told me when he got here, `If you put the ball anywhere in here,' " said Boller, spreading his arms wide, "he'll go get it. That made it easy for me."

This camp is one of three the Ravens will hold before training camp opens at the end of July. During this time, one of the main objectives is building a chemistry between Boller and Johnson.

"It's just a trust factor," said Johnson, who has averaged 66 catches over his five-year career. "I think once a guy knows how you run certain routes and once you connect with a guy where you can change and improvise, that's when you start to be great."

NOTES: The six no-shows to the weeklong voluntary camp were running back Jamal Lewis, linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware, safety Ed Reed and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Corey Fuller. When asked about Jamal Lewis, who faces drug charges in Atlanta, coach Brian Billick said: "This was not something that his presence was needed. He'll be up in June." ... Cornerbacks Gary Baxter (hernia) and Zach Norton (hand) watched on the side. Backup quarterback Anthony Wright (sore triceps) was limited. ... Without McAlister and Baxter, the first-team cornerbacks were Lamont Brightful and Ray Walls. The starting linebackers were Ed Hartwell and Bart Scott on the inside and Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas on the outside.

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