Boller not exactly a finished QB, but problems start with system

On the Ravens

November 08, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

When the Ravens named Kyle Boller the starting quarterback yesterday, it was one last grasp at this season, but basically it's preparation for 2006. Actually, it's a good move, because the Ravens are heading backward and fading as fast as the president in job approval ratings.

Going, going, going ...

But at the end of the season, we can hope the Ravens' front office will make a wise decision on Boller as the quarterback of the future, not one totally based on wins and losses. You can kind of see where this might be headed. Boller, in his third season, hasn't played since the third quarter of the season opener.

There's going to be plenty of rust, and he'll probably take a beating in the first two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Ravens should finish the season strong playing against the Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns.

Can't you just hear Ravens coach Brian Billick now?

He'll be selling the offense. He'll be selling himself and Boller. And if that happens, this team might be no better next season than it is right now.

Before the Ravens make a final evaluation of Boller, they should determine if this offensive system should be continued or abandoned. Here's a vote to toss it in the incinerator, because it hasn't come close to being successful.

The Ravens have been through countless quarterbacks. This season they brought in Pro Bowl receiver Derrick Mason to work along with Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis. They signed a new offensive coordinator as well as a new quarterbacks coach, and the Ravens still can't score points.

We can blame it on the offensive line this year, which is a problem area, but the Ravens also have to take a look at this offense itself. Boller isn't the long-term answer. He is too erratic. He struggles throwing deep and doesn't have touch on the underneath passes. He's Anthony Wright, just younger and with a costlier price tag. The Ravens are a team with four backup quarterbacks and no legitimate starter.

But Boller deserves another opportunity to prove himself. The third and fourth seasons are key years for developing quarterbacks, even for a first-round draft pick like Boller. He is only two complete quarters into his third season, which isn't nearly enough.

But if Boller fails, big questions get bigger: Why can't a quarterback succeed in this offense? Why does this offense fail every year?

The offensive line might be weak, but the Ravens still should be able to score more than seven touchdowns in eight games. Other head coaches would love to have Mason and Heap, but the Ravens get lost inside the red zone. Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel was brought in to help the offense look prettier, yet it remains ugly and ineffective.

We've heard all the excuses before. The Ravens don't have any go-to receivers. They don't have a star quarterback. They commit too many penalties at the wrong time. But when is somebody going to say, "Hey, Brian, what's up with this offense?"

If Boller doesn't succeed, can we be assured that the next quarterback is going to work out? I can give you at least seven reasons why we can't: Tony Banks, Stoney Case, Elvis Grbac, Trent Dilfer, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman and Scott Mitchell.

You can't defend Wright. There were times he looked like the real deal, but there were more times when he looked like a backup. He made dumb decisions and never seemed to be on the same page with any receiver except Mason. Wright's frustration was beginning to show. Nearly a week ago, he was arguing with Mason on the field. Two days ago, he was arguing with Mason and left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. He reacted to the crowd Sunday when they booed the Ravens in the first half for their lackluster two-minute offense.

Wright regressed from two years ago. But Boller regressed in training camp from the end of last season. They have the same problems. Both get nervous feet. Both trip over their own feet dropping back. Both stare down receivers. Banks and Blake had the same problems. Grbac had tunnel vision to his primary receiver.

Wright's and Boller's interceptions, for the most part, are usually on the same play: the slant-in where they stare down the receiver and count to five before throwing. Boller had it picked off and returned for a touchdown last year against the Indianapolis Colts, and Atlanta Falcons linebacker Ed Hartwell intercepted a similar pass in the preseason. Wright had the same pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans this season, and he almost had it picked off several times Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The two-minute offense?

Kenwood High runs a better one. Name one Ravens quarterback who has been consistently successful in running the Ravens' version. They have no sense of urgency. They don't work the sidelines. Plays are slow coming in off the bench.

The red zone has become the dead zone.

Regardless of how Boller performs, he seems destined to fail because the odds are already stacked against him, just as they were with his predecessors. The Ravens could draft Southern California's Matt Leinart, or trade or sign a player like Atlanta's Matt Schaub or Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, and the results might not change much.

The Jets came to Baltimore on Oct. 2 with quarterback Brooks Bollinger making his first start. He looked lost, but yesterday he threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Jets almost pulled off a comeback against the San Diego Chargers.

He has improved, but that never happens here in Baltimore. The Ravens have changed receivers, quarterbacks, running backs and several offensive assistants. They've changed just about everything except the offensive system and the coach who designed it.

Before they turn in the final evaluation of Boller, they should make the final call on the offense itself.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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