Boller, Palmer test QB grooming methods

Ravens, Bengals employed different approaches with 2003 first-round draft picks

Ravens Vs. Bengals

September 26, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The intertwined lives of Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer have gone from Southern California high schools to Pac-10 colleges to the first round of the 2003 NFL draft.

When the Ravens (1-1) play the Bengals (1-1) today in Cincinnati, the story line shifts to the time the paths divided for these franchise quarterbacks.

The Ravens played Boller right away as a rookie, while the Bengals decided not to let Palmer play a down last season. That's the longstanding NFL debate: Should teams push young quarterbacks onto the field, or push them off to the sideline for a season?

Quarterback development -- especially with the addition of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger to the mix -- could be the deciding factor in how the gridlocked AFC North shapes up.

"It's a little early to start drawing contrasts," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Boller and Palmer. "These guys are going to be around each other for a long time. I like where our guy is at; I'm sure they like where their guy is at."

History says this matchup of two teams favored to finish atop the AFC North will be decided by which quarterback flinches the most.

Since 2000, the quarterback who has committed more turnovers has lost in this budding rivalry, a span of eight games.

In last season's first meeting, Boller threw an interception and fumbled twice in a 34-26 loss in Cincinnati. In December, the Bengals' Jon Kitna turned the ball over four times (two interceptions and two fumbles) in a 31-13 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.

The pressure of protecting the ball today falls on Boller and Palmer, two strong-armed quarterbacks separated by 18 picks in the draft (Palmer was first overall, Boller 19th) and a half season in NFL experience.

So, is Boller better able to deal with the assortment of coverages, zone blitzes and aggressive pass-rushers off the corner having started 11 games? Or is Palmer better able to react to those situations having watched off to the side for a full year?

"He had that year to kind of learn things in a different way," said Boller, who considers Palmer a friend and has golfed with him this offseason. "All I can say for myself is that year experience that I got really helped me out, and I feel more comfortable now."

Though Palmer has the more distinguished pedigree as a former Heisman Trophy winner, Boller should have the advantage today because of defense.

The dangerous part of the Ravens' 3-4 defense is its unpredictability, the threat to come from any angle. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will send a linebacker, a cornerback or a safety to keep offenses off balance.

"We're expecting to see a lot of pressures," Palmer said, "and we've been working on that this week."

Last season, the Ravens had the most players in the NFL (seven) with at least 3 1/2 sacks. This season, five players have already reached the quarterback after two games.

"Conventional thinking is, `He's a young guy, let's blitz him,' " Billick said. "Our philosophy is, `Old, young, it doesn't matter. Let's blitz him.' There are certain things you're going to test a young player with that you might be a little more cautious with a veteran."

The Ravens will bait a first-year starter like Palmer, giving him what appears to be an open receiver before closing on the target and the ball.

It was those mind games the secondary implemented to perfection against Roethlisberger last Sunday. The rookie was picked off twice by the Ravens, and another pass should have been returned for a touchdown, but it slipped through Ed Reed's hands.

Palmer, though, wasn't rattled a week ago in directing a late drive for his first NFL victory. He completed one short, safe throw after another against Miami to set up the game-winning field goal with two seconds left.

"He is young and that is something our defense will look at and see if we can capitalize on," said cornerback Chris McAlister, who again will be assigned to shutting down Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson. "But I heard Carson Palmer took a year off to really study the game, so it might not affect him. He might be ready to handle it."

Boller's lessons have come on the field, marked by up-and-down results. He hasn't been prone to making the critical mistake, but his conservative mind-set has resulted in four career games of fewer than 100 yards passing (out of 11 starts).

The second-year starter would appear to have an excellent opportunity to take more shots downfield against Cincinnati, which might have to go without both of its injured safeties. But that void is offset by the absence of tight end Todd Heap (ankle), the Ravens' only legitimate deep threat.

"We need someone to step up and make plays," said Boller, who has only two completions covering more than 20 yards this year.

Heap is one of five starters expected to miss today's game, which wraps up the Ravens' first go-around in the AFC North.

Receiver Travis Taylor (groin), nose tackle Kelly Gregg (knee), center Mike Flynn (collarbone) and outside linebacker Peter Boulware (knee) also are scheduled to be sidelined along with nickel back Deion Sanders (hamstring). With the exception of Boulware, all of these starters should return over the next three weeks.

"Injuries always hurt you," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But I would rather have them hurt us early than hurt us late. We can be scary late in November and December."

Ravens today

Matchup: Ravens (1-1) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)

Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2 1/2

Inside

Scouting report, statistics, lineups and more. Page 17D

Quarterback comparison

Statistics through first two games of 2004:

Att. Comp. Pct. Yds.. YPA* TD Int. Rating

Kyle Boller, Rvens 56 32 57.1 289 5.16 0 2 56.3

Carson Palmer, Bengals 65 39 60.0 395 6.08 2 2 74.8

* Yards per attempt

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