Boller decision will wait

Billick says he'll hold off judgment on QB's '06 status until after finale

December 27, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Breaking through with the two best games of his career, Kyle Boller has earned the confidence of teammates and fans alike but not the Ravens' starting quarterback job in 2006.

Coach Brian Billick remained noncommittal yesterday on the future of the former first-round draft pick, saying he will wait until after Sunday's season finale in Cleveland to decide whether Boller will return as the unquestioned starter next season.

"Obviously [what he has done the past two games] helps, but this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. So, we'll see what he does this week," Billick said. "To follow up a great performance [with] a really solid performance, both on the national stage, is a huge plus."

In victories over the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, Boller completed 70 percent of his passes and averaged 271 yards a game. He threw six touchdown passes and was intercepted once for a 123.8 quarterback rating.

In his first six starts this season, he connected on 57.7 percent of his throws and averaged 184.3 yards a game. He threw five touchdown passes and was intercepted nine times for a 63.0 rating.

The difficult part for the Ravens is to determine whether Boller's dramatic turnaround is a fluke or a sign of things to come.

Asked what Boller needs to show to receive an endorsement for next season, Billick said, "Just to continue to improve. How much more are we going to draw from one more game? One more game's worth of information for us to go forward with, and then we'll go through that analysis."

However Boller plays in the final game, the Ravens' offseason plans likely include signing a veteran quarterback. The Ravens' current backup, Anthony Wright, is not expected to return.

Billick was vague on whether a free-agent addition would be brought in as a backup or be given the chance to challenge Boller for the starting job.

"Those are both very valid observations and options for us," Billick said. "Both of those are very much a part of our thinking and will be part of the evaluation and the discussion."

Before seemingly playing his way into the starting job, Boller was on his way to playing himself out of one.

Two weeks ago in a 12-10 loss in Denver, Boller inexplicably made poor throws and decisions, committing three turnovers that cost the Ravens an upset victory.

"Sometimes, it's funny you have to reach a certain low. It felt like it was kind of a last straw," center Mike Flynn said. "It was the first time I saw him down at practice. You can tell that it gets to you after a while. You can only take so much abuse before it gets to you. It's good he can take that negative energy and turn around and go out to make some plays."

Now, it seems as though Boller can do no wrong. He has thrown just one interception in his past 74 attempts and keeps coming up big in pressure-filled situations.

In Sunday's 30-23 win over Minnesota, he rallied the team from three deficits and was 10 of 11 for 185 yards with three touchdown passes on third downs. Boller tied the game at 17 with a 47-yard throw to Mark Clayton and put the Ravens ahead for good with a 39-yard toss to Derrick Mason.

"In times like these, it's more mental than physical," said Mason, who offered the harshest criticism of Boller after the Denver loss. "When everybody is down on you, how are you going to come back and react? He showed a lot of perseverance."

The same could be said of the Ravens this season.

After starting 3-8, the Ravens (6-9) have won three of their past four games to crawl out of last place in the AFC North, moving one game ahead of the Browns. This latest run likely has strengthened the job security of Billick, although owner Steve Bisciotti has yet to give a vote of confidence.

If Billick returns for an eighth season, he acknowledged that he will have to adapt his coaching style, a topic he first broached last week.

"I don't know if the last two years, the changes I've made have adequately fit the teams that I've had. So, I've failed them in that regard a little bit," Billick said. "I've got to re-evaluate that and better service them going forward to make sure the vision I have for them is indeed their vision. I've tried a little bit this last year to do that, and I need to do an even better job of that going forward."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Ravens@Browns Sunday, 1 p.m., chs. 13, 9, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 3

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