With hot start, Boller can avoid the heat

Ravens vs. Colts

September 10, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

RAY LEWIS is a linebacker, businessman, actor and apparently a comedian. Like coach Brian Billick, he asked fans not to boo quarterback Kyle Boller at tomorrow's Ravens-Colts game.

We're not even one game into the season, and fans are already on Boller. The plea coming from Lewis is somewhat amusing because most of the Ravens lack confidence in Boller. They say the right things publicly, but it's different privately. At some point, if Boller continues to falter, some of them will go to Billick requesting that Anthony Wright play. When fans are booing Boller, they're actually booing all the failures at the position before him, and the management team that signed them.

Of course, if Boller doesn't want to hear boos, he could stop throwing interceptions, staring down receivers, fumbling, throwing off the back foot and find his secondary receivers.

Psst. Billick and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel have already had a heated exchange, and it became quite a topic of discussion at the team's training complex.

Apparently, Fassel had been doing a lot of talking, and Billick reminded him who was the head coach and who was the assistant. Fassel retorted about Billick being on the hot seat and possibly having a meltdown even before the season started.

Now, let's be honest. You expected Billick, Fassel and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel to have altercations. All three have been head coaches who are competitive, stubborn and love to gab.

Coaches get big money, and they're under a lot of stress, so there's nothing wrong with some feistiness as long as it's constructive. Shoot, Billick and Fassel could stage three fights the epics of Ali-Frazier as long as they win games.

But I did like Fassel's comeback because Billick is insecure. The Compu Coach having a meltdown. Now, that's funny.

A quiet Chris McAlister is a content Chris McAlister.

The enigmatic cornerback often gives his opinion, which is admirable since most players are often programmed by coaches.

A year ago, McAlister ripped the Ravens for not giving him a new contract, and then held out most of training camp. McAlister was still selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team, but played well below expectations.

There's already a different McAlister this season. The disgruntled one has become happy, happy, happy.

"I'm here to play football, and have a good time," McAlister said. "I have no concerns. I'm not mad at anybody, and nobody is made at me. I have nothing hanging over my head, no contract disputes."

An unusual occurrence, McAlister spent most of the offseason in Baltimore rehabilitating from turf toe and getting into shape. He's excited about playing the Colts tomorrow night.

In the Ravens' new 46 defense, he is often left one-on-one with receivers. There will be times when he gets beat, but he knows he has to win more than he loses.

"It's important to go to camp on time because for four weeks you have learned where this guy is going to be instead of wondering what's going to happen when he gets here," McAlister said. "This is a great opportunity for us to establish who we are and what we plan on doing this season."

The Ravens defense has an advantage going against the Colts offense. The Colts have had basically the same offensive cast for the past couple of years, including offensive coordinator Tom Moore. Plus, the Ravens have played Indianapolis three of the previous four seasons.

But the Colts have yet to see a game plan designed by Rex Ryan, the Ravens' new defensive coordinator.

Basically, here's what to expect: The Ravens will move around quite a lot right before the snap to give Colts quarterback Peyton Manning as much of a read as possible. Because he is so good at recognizing defenses and finding weaknesses, the Ravens want to confuse him as much as possible.

Some teams try to drop a lot of players into coverage because the Colts protect Manning so well, but that won't happen with the Ravens. They'll go after Manning because their strength is pressure, and running to the ball.

Plus, Ryan, just like his father Buddy, knows only one style, and that's punish the quarterback.

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney had two sacks against Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden last season, but Freeney is not making it a big deal.

"It definitely was one of my better games," Freeney said. "I was just on. Some games you're on, some games you're not as on, just a little bit off. Hopefully, I can continue that little string I had going into September."

Asked about Ogden directly, Freeney said: "It's a game, the same game for everybody."

This time, though, Ogden will get some support. According to players and coaches, the Ravens always snapped the ball on the first count in recent years.

Freeney knew it, and it took away one of the major advantages of playing offense, which is knowing the snap count. Because of his great quickness, Ogden usually gets into his pass set and can get his arms extended to push away most rushers. Seldom do they ever get into his body.

Freeney is smaller and quicker than Ogden. Because he knew the snap count, he was able to spin or move away from Ogden before Ogden could get set and fully extend those arms.

"You would figure that we would be able to go on something other than the first sound," Fassel said recently. "We've changed that, had Boller going to a hard count at times, which has drawn some other teams offside. It's just another one of those offensive barriers we had to break down."

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