Ravens' Billick comfortable under center

Coach expects big things from QB McNair, predicts Ogden will return

March 28, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

PHOENIX -- When Ravens coach Brian Billick addressed reporters at last year's NFL owners meetings, he didn't know who would be his starting quarterback.

Now, he couldn't be more certain.

Thrilled about having Steve McNair back for a second season, Billick said yesterday he expects McNair to play even better than last season, when he led the Ravens to a franchise-best 13-3 record.

"This is his system now. He knows it," Billick said. "To be able to start the offseason [camps] with that, that's kind of exciting to think what we might be able to do offensively with Steve really knowing the offense."

The Ravens didn't complete the trade for McNair until June 8, and he still threw for 3,050 yards and 16 touchdowns despite limited offseason training with the team.

But there have been questions about how long McNair will remain the Ravens' starter after team officials recently said they have begun thinking about who will be their quarterback of the future.

McNair, 34, will be one of the oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL next season.

"If we can protect him, I think he has two to three more years if he really wants to. Now, does he want to? I don't know," Billick said.

The Ravens' commitment to McNair is much longer than the one to backup Kyle Boller. The former first-round pick is entering the final year of his contract.

But Billick said he could foresee a situation where Boller would return to the Ravens in 2008.

"I would like to think so but the prevailing question is a legitimate one: Can Kyle get a fair break in Baltimore? That's a question only Kyle can answer," Billick said. "Would it be different anywhere else? Probably not. I have great faith in Kyle Boller's ability to play. I hope he can remain with us. But that won't come up until next year."

One presumed move is the Ravens drafting a quarterback next month.

Although Billick wouldn't rule out using a first-round pick on a quarterback, it's expected that the Ravens will use a second-day selection (fourth round or later) on one.

"If the board presents a quarterback at the 29th pick [of the first round], we'll take a quarterback," Billick said. "On the short term, I hope there are some better options because there are some things I would like to address."

Billick is more focused on the present, especially when he has finally achieved some stability at quarterback.

He wants to see McNair take the next step for the Ravens.

"I don't think anybody can look at the season and not say he had a heck of a year," Billick said. "We've got to be better in the playoffs, and he'll tell you that. Like he says, `They're going to win a bunch of games without me. I'm here to win playoff games and go to a Super Bowl.' "

Other issues addressed by Billick yesterday included:

Billick visited Jonathan Ogden in Las Vegas last week but said he did not talk to the Pro Bowl offensive tackle about whether he is retiring. Ogden, though, has begun offseason conditioning.

"I can't speak for J.O., [but] I believe J.O. will be back," Billick said. "He's doing what he needs to do to get ready. Whether he has definitely made that decision, I think some of that has to do with the [injured] toe. As the toe continues to rehab and starts to feel good, that will have a lot to do with it. If it lingers and he might struggle with it, that would certainly change it."

Billick praised linebacker Adalius Thomas, who joined the New England Patriots in free agency, to the New England media. He reiterated that the Ravens couldn't keep Thomas because of salary cap restraints.

"What kills you in this league is overpaying for great players," Billick said. "There is a threshold. It varies from team to team and that's not to say New England is overpaying. When I say overpay, I mean overpay given the confines of where you're at in the cap, how it projects out and what's your current team structure."

Billick explained why he decided to keep calling plays on offense.

"The positive for me is I enjoy doing it and it brings me closer to the players," he said. "The negative is that you all [the media] will now have about 1,200 calls in a given year to [criticize] anytime one of them doesn't work."

Billick gave the impression that it's more than coincidence that he will playing his seventh season opener on the road in nine years as Ravens coach.

"It would be nice for our fans to occasionally have an opening day," Billick said. "I'm sure at some point, it will even out and we'll have seven straight home openers. But I'll be long gone and dead when that happens."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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