Healthy Boller deserves a toehold on starting job this year

September 17, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

IT TOOK THEM most of the week, but the Ravens finally got their story straight. Anthony Wright is their starting quarterback for now, but Kyle Boller will get the job back when his injured toe heals.

This is as it should be. It wouldn't make any sense for the Ravens to give up on Boller now.

To begin with, Wright's career statistics are no better; in fact, his quarterback rating and completion percentage are lower than Boller's. Some of those calling for Ravens coach Brian Billick to make a permanent switch obviously haven't looked at the numbers.

Wright might lead the team to a victory tomorrow in Tennessee - the guess here is he will - but frankly, there is no evidence, none, that he would do any better than Boller as a long-term solution.

Then there's the issue of giving away any player's job because of an injury - a dangerous concept that can destroy a locker room, sully a team's reputation and undermine its ability to attract free agents. The Patriots' Bill Belichick got away with it when he went with Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe and went on to win three Super Bowls, but that was an isolated case. It's almost never the wise course to take.

Perhaps the best reason to give Boller back the job is that it surely will annoy the drunk dunderheads who cheered when he went down with an injury Sunday night. There were more than you know, and they deserve to gag on something.

But, of course, the most important reason to give Boller back the job is the Ravens can't afford to give up on him now, just 29 months after having finally decided to draft and nurture a young franchise quarterback instead of continuing to shuffle through a deck of forgettable veterans such as Scott Mitchell, Elvis Grbac and Jeff Blake.

Many people booing Boller now surely were cheering when the team finally took that approach to its seemingly endless quarterback dilemma, opting to start fresh with a new guy who could be molded.

Admittedly, the dilemma lives on with Boller having done little to warrant anyone's faith in him, but to give up on the plan now, after just 29 starts, would be, sorry to say, an Oriole-like move, lacking in patience and ultimately self-defeating.

Are you ready for the team to go back to forgettable veterans? You'd better be, because that's the alternative, and in case you've forgotten, it tends to get ugly.

Bottom line, it's a good thing Billick finally had Boller's back by the end of the week, because the Ravens owe the guy more time than this. Other than giving him the job in the first place, they haven't done him any favors, effectively setting him up to fail.

First, in 2003 they made him a rookie on a veteran team with Super Bowl aspirations, however irrational. How unfair was that? The kid was under pressure to be excellent from the first snap, which doesn't happen in pro football.

Meanwhile, the Ravens surrounded him with mostly inadequate wide-outs and an offensive coaching brain trust on its last legs. Thanks a lot.

Only now, in Boller's third season, has the team finally given him the tools to succeed - better receivers such as Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, and a fresh wave of proven offensive thinking in the form of coaches Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel.

Their presence only emphasizes how deficient Boller's support was before now.

Admittedly, the new regime wasn't off to a particularly good start before Boller went down Sunday; he completed 15 of 23 passes for 141 yards without sniffing the end zone in a 24-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

But it wasn't disastrous. And it surely wasn't enough to warrant a permanent spot on the bench. That would effectively mean the team was giving up on Boller, and you give up on a young quarterback at this point only if you're absolutely, positively sure he is a bust.

Some fans and a few of Boller's teammates might think that, but the people who run the team need to be bigger and more patient than that. Why force their organization to endure two years of Boller's development only to give up on him just when they're ready to start learning real lessons about him?

It could be Boller isn't their guy, his arm too inaccurate, his feet too panicky, and they'll have to give up on him sooner rather than later.

But at the very least, Boller deserves the chance to play as much as possible this season, through all the ups and downs, and show what he can do.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (0-1) at Tennessee Titans (0-1)

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

Line: Ravens by 4

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