Billick gives Boller a shot of confidence

Ravens coach says he's `going to be our quarterback for a long, long time'

October 08, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A couple of days before what could become Kyle Boller's most pivotal game, coach Brian Billick said the impact from the Ravens' second-year quarterback will extend far beyond Sunday night in Washington.

"There's no question, no doubt in my mind that Kyle Boller is the quarterback we have all believed him to be and is going to be our quarterback for a long, long time," Billick said.

A national television audience will see if Billick's confidence is based on faith or fact.

The Redskins have the NFL's top-ranked run defense, which means there will be more pressure on the Ravens' injury-strapped passing attack to step up.

"When we're playing the caliber of defense we're playing this week, it's hard to imagine us able to win unless Kyle and the receivers make some substantial plays," Billick said.

In the Ravens' run-first profile, Boller has concentrated on three areas: higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions and more yards created by scrambling.

Based on those factors, his progress is encouraging.

His efficiency has increased seven points from his rookie season to 58.2 percent. His interception rate has nearly been cut in half from 4 percent in 2003 to 2.2 percent. And he is averaging 19.2 yards rushing a game.

Still, there are concerns among the Ravens' fan base whether Boller will live up to his first-round pedigree.

He has the sixth-worst quarterback rating among NFL starters (74.8) and has a habit of fumbling (eight in 13 starts including one near the goal line). To make matters worse, the Ravens have the league's worst-ranked passing attack for the second straight season (142.2 yards a game).

"My expectations are high and are probably different than the general public that wants to see greatness right away; I think he's working toward that," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "I'm convinced he's going to be a great quarterback. He's got all the tools. He gets smarter every game. He's playing within what we're asking him to do.

"Is he a star in this league? No. Is he going to be? I think he is."

Boller might have to carry more of the offensive load after next week's bye. The NFL will suspend Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for the last two games this month, sources within the organization said last night.

His role as a difference-maker could start against the Redskins.

Washington hasn't allowed a running back to gain over 82 yards this year. And Lewis has eclipsed 73 yards just once in a mediocre start to the season.

The Ravens can only hope Boller will fare better in the spotlight than Monday, when he failed to move them past midfield on two drives in the last six minutes of a 27-24 loss to Kansas City.

"A quarterback loves to have the pressure on their shoulders and to come back to win the game," Boller said. "There's going to be another chance where we have the same opportunity and hopefully we'll be able to come out victorious."

Boller has yet to put together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, but he hasn't hurt the Ravens often with his passes. He hasn't thrown an interception in 61 attempts (his pick in the end zone Monday was negated by a penalty), a streak of three games.

Of his mind-set, Boller said, "I want to make sure I don't turn the ball over and to be smart with the football. I think as long as we do that, we'll be successful."

There's a fine line, though, between being smart and being timid.

By taking fewer chances downfield, the Ravens have made only six completions of 20-plus yards, which includes a flea-flicker and a screen pass to Lewis. Comparatively, 34 of Boller's 53 completions (64 percent) have gone for 9 yards or fewer.

"He's not shown a hesitancy," Billick said. "I can't think of a route where it's `My God, why didn't you throw?' "

Instead, Ravens coaches said the lack of a presence downfield can be attributed to the injuries to Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and receiver Travis Taylor (groin).

"You don't want to make an excuse because everybody has to deal with it," Billick said, "but [their absences are] substantial."

After 13 starts with Boller (nine last season and four this year), the consensus with Billick and Cavanaugh is the franchise can build a team around him.

"When it's all clicking, he's going to be a [very] good quarterback," Cavanaugh said. "Maybe someday he'll be a [Brett] Favre who can light it up and continues to throw a bunch of interceptions but overcomes it. Maybe he'll be that someday, but that's not what we need right now."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (2-2) vs. Washington Redskins (1-3)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 7, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Ravens by 1

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