Fassel giving Boller ABCs of being a QB

May 18, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THE RAVENS were only three minutes into passing camp yesterday, and there was little question about Jim Fassel's new job. He was quarterback Kyle Boller's shadow.

Seldom were they apart for more than a few minutes without Fassel whispering in his ear or demonstrating technique. Occasionally, he scratched his head at some of Boller's passes, but he spent most of the morning being positive.

Part II in the development of Boller began on the field yesterday with Fassel replacing offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and receivers/quarterbacks coach David Shaw as Boller's tutor. The Ravens hired Fassel in February shortly after he was fired as the New York Giants head coach after seven seasons.

What did we see yesterday?

In a 75-minute workout, Fassel put Boller through footwork drills and mechanics and gave him the special attention he didn't get last season, when he had a quarterback rating of 62.4, second-lowest in the NFL, and the Ravens had the league's worst passing game.

Boller's problems last season were similar to the other nine quarterbacks who have stumbled, fumbled and fallen through Baltimore since 1999. Now, the Ravens finally have a coach who can teach their quarterback how to play and with some grace.

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

"My feet were real tight in the pocket. I was holding the ball up real high," said Boller. "I wasn't moving fluent. I just didn't look good. So I've been trying to relax more, go through my progressions, not be so tight. Another thing I've been trying to do is move the ball around a little bit more, not keep it up so high. I'm trying to get back to more rhythm."

Wow. Imagine that.

The Ravens might not have a quarterback who fumbles snaps or trips over his own feet while dropping back. They might have a quarterback who doesn't whiff when he attempts to throw or crash into his guards at the line of scrimmage. Nobody knows if Fassel or Boller are the answers, but this marriage appears better than the previous ones.

Boller, at least for a day, seemed to drop back consistently. He was taught about shifting his body weight and not throwing off his back foot on short passes, and how to squeeze the ball hard when dropping back so no one can knock it out of his throwing hand.

Fassel has developed quarterbacks like John Elway and Kerry Collins, and he helped rejuvenate the career of Boomer Esiason. Yesterday, however, he wasn't foolish enough to compare any of them to Boller, who is about to enter his second season.

"I think he has a huge upside," Fassel said. "I think he can be an outstanding quarterback. 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."

Boller got a crash course from Billick and Cavanaugh last season, when he completed only 116 of 224 passes for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions before a leg injury forced him out for the final seven games.

But the learning curve won't be as steep in 2004.

It's going to be a slow and easy progression, a smart move by the Ravens, one they should have used a year ago instead of starting Boller right away. It would be dangerous for them to overhaul their offense. The idea is to stay within the framework of previous seasons with running back Jamal Lewis as the centerpiece, but upgrading a passing game on what Fassel describes as mere efficiency.

In other words, Boller has to be less erratic and more precise with his throws. Last season, he had the touch of a bazooka on short passes.

"He wasn't consistent with things, moved too quickly in the pocket and could have taken advantage of a dump when he could have avoided the sack," said Fassel. "He has to be smooth, to be quicker, where he doesn't have wasted steps, wasted movements with the ball, wasted movements in the pockets where he is squaring himself, resetting himself in the pocket. He has to smooth himself out so he'll play quicker."

Fassel seems content in his new role. He doesn't have to deal with the front office, the media or worry about salary cap problems. He has already made some recommendations about the passing game to Billick, but more suggestions will come once he determines all of Boller's strengths and weaknesses.

Fassel said he likes working for Billick, his close friend, as well as with Cavanaugh and Shaw. It was perfectly clear yesterday that the quarterbacks belonged to him, and the offense, at least for now, belonged to Billick and Cavanaugh.

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