Boller says of pressure: `Bring it on'

Ravens QB is unfazed by raised expectations

April 27, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The expectations piled on Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller over draft weekend resembled an unforgiving Pittsburgh Steelers blitz.

Based largely on the selection of receiver Mark Clayton in the first round - which completed the revamping of the passing game - the national media gave the Ravens' draft a resounding grade of A, which might as well have been translated to: All excuses are now removed for Boller.

The buzz surrounding the Ravens has included the mounting pressure on Boller to produce, from the coverage on ESPN to the ramblings on local Internet message boards.

With Clayton and veteran Derrick Mason, Boller no longer has a suspect receiving tandem. With Jim Fassel, Boller no longer has a conservative play caller. And with 25 starts under his belt, Boller no longer has the label of being inexperienced.

Asked about the challenge of being the X-factor to the Ravens' season of heightened goals, Boller appeared to have more of an edge than any previous offseason.

"Bring it on," Boller said after an hourlong workout with about 20 teammates. "The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. With the changes that the organization has made, shoot, I'm ready to get out there and silence all the critics."

The most criticized facet has been the Ravens' passing game, which ranked last in 2003 and second-to-last in 2004. In fact, the Ravens have finished 22nd or worse in five of coach Brian Billick's six seasons.

But Boller, a first-round pick in 2003, started showing flashes of success near the middle of last season. In his last 10 games, he averaged 182.3 yards passing, throwing 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Trying to capitalize on that finish, Boller estimated that he has spent 85 percent of the offseason at the Ravens' training complex. He can be spotted throwing to receivers on the practice fields, lifting weights as part of the team's conditioning program or breaking down tape in Fassel's office.

"I put more pressure on myself than the media and analysts," Boller said. "I want to be a quarterback that is talked about. I set my own goals and have a mold of what kind of quarterback I want to be."

Some of the pressure of producing big plays should be reduced with the additions of Mason and Clayton.

These 5-foot-10 darts have a reputation of weaving though traffic and breaking tackles, a combination that often turns short tosses into big gains. When was the last time the Ravens had a receiver who needed more than one tackler to take him down?

As a result, the Ravens have long become one-dimensional in their deep passing attack, heaving jump balls downfield where their receivers could outleap defenders. Stretching the field was rare last season, considering the Ravens managed just four completions over 40 yards.

Boller estimated that the Ravens misfired on all dozen of their "go routes," patterns in which the receivers sprinted down the field.

"The run after catch is going to be huge this year," Boller said. "[Mason and Clayton are] playmaker-type guys. All my job is to get it into their hands."

Another focus for Boller has been his completion percentage.

He has connected on 54.4 percent of his career throws compared with the league average of about 60 percent. His target this season is 65 percent, a level reached by only eight starters in 2004.

"It can be done," Boller said. "I think toward the end of last season, I could see the field so much better. I was able to just play instead of think."

And no one sees the current landscape better than Boller.

With the team loading up on offense this offseason - adding Mason and right guard Keydrick Vincent in free agency and Clayton in the draft - he understands that the Ravens need a quarterback who is more of a strength than a liability to make a championship run.

"I have to step it up and I want to step it up," Boller said. "I think I improved from my first year to my second year and I think there is going to be a drastic change from my second year to my third. Everyone expects a lot from a young quarterback right away. I think a lot of guys forget I didn't have Todd Heap and Jamal Lewis for games [last season]. But I'm not a guy that's going to make excuses.

"Our main thing is keeping guys healthy and getting these new guys acclimated. Once that happens, the sky is the limit. People are going to be talking about our offense more than they ever have in the past."

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