Billick's tie to QB Boller leaves Ravens in knots

September 13, 2005|By Rick Maese

AS THE FANS cheered and Kyle Boller meekly left the field using two trainers as crutches, you could see it moving in quick flashes along the Ravens' sideline.

I'm not sure if coach Brian Billick even noticed, but the rest of us saw it, zipping by like freeway traffic on a dark night. There it was: more than two decades of coaching - flash - a pristine reputation as an offensive genius - flash - and a long list of names: Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Tony Banks, Stoney Case, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Chris Redman, Jeff Blake. Flash, flash, flash.

And yet it was this guy coming off the field - the one with the missing sock, the hyperextended toe and the league's worst passer rating a year ago - that would mean more than all the quarterbacks who came before.

Regardless of when Boller is healthy enough to return, Billick stood on the sideline as the most dismal character in Sunday's 24-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Despite all the warning signs, and the poor numbers and the mounting losses, Billick kept himself tied to Boller.

The quarterback hobbled off the field and there was no way for Billick to loosen the tie. It was too late. It was double-knotted and couldn't be undone. And now, as much as Boller's future might look uncertain, you get the sense that Billick might have aligned himself too closely with the young quarterback.

It has certainly happened before where a coach becomes too enamored with a young arm. And it's happened before where young men have come into this league with all the makings of a pro quarterback, as though they popped out of an NFL Jell-O mold.

But at some point, coaches change directions. Billick knows this. Until Boller came along, he himself swapped quarterbacks like a NASCAR crew member changes tires.

Remember back to midway through the 2000 season. Banks couldn't find the end zone if you held his hand and walked him there. Billick benched him, and the team was dancing with the Lombardi Trophy less than three months later.

But there's plenty of other coaches who tied their livelihoods too closely to a promising young quarterback. When Ryan Leaf failed in San Diego, Kevin Gilbride lost his coaching job. Tom Flores was canned when Rick Mirer struggled in Seattle. Vinny Testaverde cost Ray Perkins his job in Tampa. Ron Meyer was unemployed when Jeff George struggled in Indianapolis. The list is much longer. What you won't find, though, is many coaches who have been willing - or even given the opportunity - to stand by a struggling quarterback this long.

It makes you wonder why would Billick put himself in a position where his team's success and his own future hinged on the unreliable and errant throwing arm of a 24-year-old quarterback. Is it because Boller is nice? Because he looks like a quarterback? Because he had a great senior season at California?

There's no good answer. Billick had faith in Boller and continues to stubbornly stick by him.

I actually have no problem with Billick entering this season and giving Boller a third shot at dispelling the growing list of naysayers, especially considering the team brought in some talented receivers and offensive coaching help. But those solutions were completely dependent on the possibility that Boller actually was capable of leading this team.

Now Boller is out for at least one week, and in Sunday's loss, we saw a glimpse of what life is like without Boller in the pocket. We were reminded that Billick has never thought backup quarterbacks Anthony Wright or Derek Anderson were as good as Boller.

It shouldn't have gotten to this point. The Ravens could have allowed Boller his status as the anointed one and still chased a veteran in the offseason. You don't think Drew Bledsoe, Kurt Warner or Brad Johnson would look good in purple right now?

And even though it might have shaken the public perception of Boller as Billick's top guy, the Ravens could have also addressed this problem in the draft. They selected receiver Mark Clayton with the 22nd pick. Aaron Rodgers went two picks later (though even I have a hard time suggesting another California quarterback might be the solution) and Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell went after Rodgers.

Instead, there was never a long-term solution, nor was there a short-term possibility. The team was worried that even thinking about a Plan B or C would have compromised faith in Plan A.

Well, Plan A isn't available right now. And we don't really know for certain when it will be back.

More so than anyone else in the organization, Billick had better hope soon. And for the coach's sake, when the quarterback does return, it's not just his toe that needs to be improved.

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