Only thing Boller hopes to turn over is a new leaf

With four turnovers in first two games, Ravens QB looks to start fresh tonight

Ravens

August 26, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - There was the interception on the first throw in Atlanta, the three turnovers against the Philadelphia Eagles and the chorus of boos throughout M&T Bank Stadium.

These struggles have cast all-too-familiar doubts around Kyle Boller, quickly transforming the Ravens quarterback's preseason from a routine tuneup to a personal challenge.

The first three quarters of tonight's game against the New Orleans Saints - likely his last significant outing before the regular-season opener - could reverse his downward spiral or serve as another disturbing sign of what's to come.

"It's definitely not a panic mode," Boller said. "It's only our third preseason game. I think if you start forcing things and trying too hard like you think that you should, more bad things are going to happen."

Teammates and coaches have counseled Boller all week. Even owner Steve Bisciotti offered some encouraging words to him at the end of a recent practice.

But there will come a time this season when Boller must give them reason to believe.

"Clearly, Kyle's ability to lead as a quarterback eventually will stem from his productivity," coach Brian Billick said. "Like any leader, that's what he'll be held accountable to. What we have to make sure is we're holding him accountable for those things he can control and holding others accountable for what is going on around him."

The coaching staff said the lapses in the preseason opener were the result of a handful of drops by receivers. In the second game, team officials pointed to faulty pass protection as the most troublesome error.

What can't be argued is the lack of productivity of the Ravens' starting offense.

Half of the eight drives against opponents' first-team defense have ended in turnovers. The other possessions resulted in three punts, one field goal and no touchdowns.

"This game is important for us to get back on track," Boller said. "When we've got 11 guys doing the right thing, we're a dang good offense. We just have to eliminate the mistakes."

In a little more than three quarters of work this preseason, Boller is 15-for-24 for 145 yards. But Billick said the evaluation goes beyond the numbers.

"Kyle is very confident in his abilities," Billick said. "Does he rush his mechanics? Yes, at times because he's a very hyper-kinetic individual. But I've never seen this young man panicked, and I've seen him in some pretty critical situations."

Billick's optimism comes from how Boller rebounded after a similar rough start last season.

The low point for Boller occurred Week 5 in Washington, where he threw for 81 yards and was picked off on three straight possessions. Then, in his final 10 starts, he averaged 182.3 yards passing, throwing 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions.

"Look at the critiques and the mood at that time, and look at what he did subsequent to that," Billick said. "We have a reference point to go back to and say, `We've been in this situation before and how did he respond?' I have no reason to believe he won't respond as well."

Backup quarterback Anthony Wright responded late last game, leading an 80-yard touchdown drive in the second half before failing to finish off a 76-yard series to end the game. Still, Wright's preseason statistics - 18-for-38 for 190 yards - aren't overly impressive.

According to Billick, Wright won't have any snaps with the starters this week but could have a chance to work briefly with them in the preseason finale.

"Kyle is No. 1. Right now, I'm No. 2," Wright said. "I'm just going about my job and letting everything else take care of itself."

As for the players, there is no quarterback controversy.

"He's our quarterback, he's the leader of our offense," receiver Derrick Mason said of Boller. "No matter what went on the previous two games, I don't think we've lost confidence in him. I had confidence in him when I came here, and I still have confidence in him."

NOTES: Running back Jamal Lewis (foot), tight end Todd Heap (shoulder), left guard Edwin Mulitalo (personal reasons), cornerback Samari Rolle (knee) and linebacker Peter Boulware (conditioning) are not expected to play. ... Team officials said there will be a rotation of Orlando Brown and Tony Pashos at right offensive tackle during games throughout the regular season. ...

The Ravens have decided to start Dale Carter instead of Deion Sanders at cornerback tonight because Sanders experienced tightness in his hamstring this week. The team also wanted an extended look at Carter, who has been sidelined the past two weeks with a leg injury. ... The receiving corps is nearly set with Mason, Clarence Moore, Mark Clayton, Randy Hymes and Patrick Johnson. Devard Darling, a third-round draft pick from a year ago, needs to show he can handle physical play to get off the bubble.

Ravens tonight

Preseason matchup: Ravens (0-2) at New Orleans Saints (1-1)

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

Line: Saints by 1 1/2

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