It's just one preseason game, but Boller has long way to go

August 13, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THE RAVENS aren't asking Kyle Boller to be John Elway this season because he can't be John Elway. He's just Kyle Boller, a second-year quarterback struggling to find himself, this offense and some accuracy.

What we saw last night from Boller in the Ravens' 24-0 preseason-opening win against the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium is pretty much what we'll get for most of the regular season: an inconsistent quarterback who will hopefully mature going into the postseason.

Boller had decent mobility in the pocket and enough awareness to step up in it when necessary. He evaded rushers when he had a chance and completed five of nine passes for 56 yards and one touchdown in nearly two quarters of work.

He finished with a quarterback rating of 111.3, but that was misleading. Of the nine passes Boller threw, only two were good throws. The most troubling aspect of his game was his inaccuracy on short passes, which is supposed to be the staple of the Ravens' West Coast passing offense in 2004.

"I think it went all right." Boller said. "I was nervous a little bit, kept trying to tell myself to slow down. I'm getting comfortable with the offense. I'm trying to concentrate more on defensive fronts, coverages and audible on plays. Right now, I have to continue to study tape and know opponents."

The Ravens keep saying Boller is a work in progress. They will get no argument here. It's only one game into the preseason, and he played in just eight games last year, but the kid needs a lot of work. For whatever reason, he hasn't looked totally comfortable in the pocket during training camp or last night.

He was sacked twice on the Ravens' first series, and that may have caused his jittery and nervous feet. He still occasionally pats the football while dropping back, a major no-no in the NFL because the speed of the game is so much faster than college.

Sometimes, it looks as if Boller is thinking too much, maybe because he might be over-coached, as compared with last season when he was under-coached. Or maybe he isn't getting all the subtle changes in the revised offense.

But the key is consistency, and Boller hasn't reached that level yet.

The Ravens believe they have the formula for success from their 2000 Super Bowl team, which had a great defense, a dominating running game, good special teams and a quarterback in Trent Dilfer who didn't make a lot of mistakes. But they also need to remember that Dilfer also made some big plays and was accurate in crunch time. That's a problem with Boller.

He threw a nice pass in the right flat to Todd Heap for a 10-yard gain with 2:16 left in the first quarter, and a perfect pass over the middle to tight end Daniel Wilcox for a 12-yard touchdown with 4:40 left in the first half.

But that was about it. He bounced a low one to receiver Devard Darling on a slant pattern late in the first quarter, and then bounced another one to Darling on a 10-yard out early in the second period. It was a rainy night and the conditions were poor, but inaccuracy has followed Boller from college to the pros.

The Ravens changed up their offense this season partly to counter Boller's erratic passing. They want him to make safe passes. They've gone to the short stuff: slant-ins, hitches and curls over the middle. They brought in Jim Fassel to work with Boller on his mechanics and his touch.

It's supposed to be a ball-control passing game, but it's not there yet. Shouldn't a first-round draft pick be able to make these short passes? There are signs of development, like when Boller looked off Kevin Johnson to his left downfield, and then went to fullback Alan Ricard over the middle for a short gain. Or when he threw to Johnson for a 19-yard gain on a third-and-nine from the Ravens' 6 to keep alive a 95-yard scoring drive in the first half.

But again, where is the consistency?

Until he achieves that, he can't become the leader of this offense. And until then, we've seen this act before. The Ravens' running game produced most of the yardage last night in the first half, and their defense came up with the big plays. That was good enough to win a Super Bowl title in the 2000 season, but not enough to get past the first round of the playoffs last season.

If the Ravens had a John Elway, you could buy tickets and make hotel reservations for the Super Bowl in February in Jacksonville, Fla. For them to get there with this team, they're going to need a consistent Boller, more consistent than the one we saw last year, more consistent than the one who played last night.

Thank goodness it was only the first preseason game.

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