Plummer's renaissance holds out hope for Boller

December 11, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Before this goes any further, it has to be acknowledged that comparing Jake Plummer, considered an NFL Most Valuable Player candidate in some corners, to Kyle Boller is absurd on its surface. This afternoon in Denver, they'll share a position and a field, and not much else.

However, it's not absurd to wonder if Boller, talked about now in much the same terms Plummer was five years ago, will one day be talked about the way Plummer is now. Better yet, to wonder what Boller might do if put in a situation like Plummer is in now.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was asked last week (as he has been nearly every week this season) why Plummer, in his third season as Shanahan's hand-picked quarterback, has made the leap to respectability and dependability.

"He's eliminating mistakes. That's the first thing you want your quarterback to do," Shanahan said. "You're hoping to get touchdown passes and you want to limit the interceptions.

"That only comes with time, understanding the system, the terminology, the players around you - when you're much more comfortable, when you don't have to think [and] you can react."

Now, imagine some coach saying that about Boller in his eighth NFL season, describing the reclamation and resurrection of his career.

Actually, the Ravens - that is, Brian Billick - expected people to be saying that about Boller this year, what with the additions of key players and the installation of an offensive system designed to minimize his weaknesses and enhance his strengths.

With Plummer, the Broncos have turned talk into action.

Not that Boller is envying what Plummer has to work with today - the No. 2 rushing attack in the NFL, a line that keeps him upright, receivers with the ability to break big plays, and a scheme that keeps him from having to go into Brett Favre mode and try to win by himself.

Boller hasn't earned the right to envy anyone, not the way he has played at times. Dreaming, though, would be all right.

Plummer stumbled up to a poker table and was dealt a handful of aces. That's a big reason why scattershot, scatter-armed, scatter-brained Jake is now Super Bowl-contender Jake.

Check out what Plummer did at the same age (24) and stage of career (third season, 30-plus starts) as Boller is now. Boller's quarterback rating this season - albeit in only 4 1/2 games - is 62.5, with only three current starters ranked below him. He has thrown four touchdown passes (three of them in the post-34-0 stage of the Cincinnati game) and seven interceptions. By comparison, Peyton Manning leads the NFL this season with a quarterback rating of 107.6.

Plummer's rating in 1999 with the Arizona Cardinals was ... ready? ... 50.8. Nine touchdown passes, 24 interceptions.

That was the season after he had led the Cardinals to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and to their first playoff win in 50. He was the next big thing, but '99 was the start of a run of what-the-heck decisions (for example, against the Raiders two years ago, he tried to avoid a sack by throwing a pass behind his back (it was intercepted); that all but killed every trace of buzz about him.

Plummer's rep didn't really recover from that third season until now. Shanahan's signing him in 2003 seemed insane. Some are still just waiting for the old Jake to resurface, maybe in a playoff game.

Still, Boller can relate. As a West Coast kid, he has seen Plummer since his Arizona State days. The doubts of whether Plummer would ever pan out sound familiar to him. He can't exactly project himself five years ahead, but it has crossed his mind.

"I think each year it gets easier and easier," Boller said of Plummer. "The guy's been in the league eight years. The guy has been through a lot. He wasn't well-liked in Arizona; there were a lot of people that disliked him. He got another chance in Denver, and he's made the best of it.

"You kind of like guys like that; when things don't go right, right away, keep working. That's what it's all about. That's what I tell myself every week."

Billick probably tells himself that every week, too. He and Shanahan can relate, too: Super Bowl-winning coaches in playoff droughts, in their third year with quarterbacks in whom they put their faith and on whom they staked their reputations, waiting to be rewarded for that faith before they all get swept out.

So Shanahan may or may not have been just being polite or diplomatic when he said he saw in Boller "the same things I was talking about with Jake. There are growing pains that come with the job. I don't care if it's the John Elways or the Dan Marinos. It doesn't happen right away."

Maybe in 2010, under the right conditions. Stranger things have happened. The proof is starting at quarterback for the Broncos today.

Points after -- David Steele

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