QBs sad to see teacher go

Smith, Boller key projects of UCLA-bound Neuheisel

Analysis

December 31, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Rick Neuheisel said his round of goodbyes yesterday, from the Ravens locker room to the press box at M&T Bank Stadium.

For an offensive coordinator who reportedly had very little to do with the offense, the next coach at UCLA will be missed greatly by at least two Ravens - quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.

Neuheisel's work was on display during Smith's coming-of-age performance in a 27-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a performance that will possibly set up a quarterback controversy next summer in Westminster.

"I don't want him to leave," Smith said of Neuheisel after completing 16 of 27 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown and getting his first NFL win as a starter. "It saddens me because I love playing for incredible coaches. I want nothing but the best for him. It's kind of selfish of me, because I want him to continue to coach me."

While the Ravens packed up last night with some of the sour taste of this season temporarily washed from their mouths, Neuheisel departed knowing that he had done a good job in helping to develop Smith and, to a lesser extent, Boller.

Taking steps

"It is a thrill to coach young players, guys that are listening to every word. You're not an adviser, you're a teacher teaching them from the ground up," Neuheisel said. "When you see them take that next step, and take that next step, that's everything."

But Neuheisel won't be around to see Smith blossom into a starting quarterback, or Boller reclaim his starting job.

Neuheisel will be introduced today at a news conference in Los Angeles as the coach of his alma mater, the prodigal son and former Rose Bowl hero coming home to revive the Bruins.

Boller was a much tougher project than Smith, given that Neuheisel, who was essentially still the team's quarterbacks coach this season, had to continue to work through the mess at the position that predated his arrival three years ago.

Smith, a fifth-round draft choice last spring, was like the proverbial piece of clay.

"My role was different with Kyle because when I got here, Kyle was a starter and Jim [Fassel, the former offensive coordinator] was kind of working with him, and I had Derek Anderson," Neuheisel recalled. "I was a resource for Kyle. That shifted a little last year with Steve McNair here. I feel that Kyle has improved. I feel that he still has a tremendous upside."

While Boller didn't show significant progress after getting another chance as the team's starter this season, Smith has grown considerably since training camp, when many considered the former Ohio State star another potential Heisman bust.

Unless the Ravens plan to bring back McNair (and, shockingly, there have been whispers of that around Owings Mills) or sign another veteran from a market that will likely include Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia and Todd Collins, Boller will be projected as the No. 1 quarterback going into next season.

But should it be that simple? Though Smith's statistics didn't necessarily bear it out, he demonstrated something more important - a poise in the pocket that Boller has seemingly lacked since he came to Baltimore five seasons ago.

Smith showed it after coming in when Boller went out with a concussion in the fourth quarter two weeks ago in Miami, putting the Ravens in position to win a game they eventually lost to the previously winless Dolphins in overtime.

Smith showed it at times in his first NFL start Dec. 23 in Seattle, in a 27-6 loss to the Seahawks.

He didn't seem bothered by the surroundings at crazy Qwest Field but was ultimately undone by a costly fumble by Mike Anderson in a 21-point second quarter.

Gaining respect

And Smith gained some more experience, and respect, yesterday against a Steelers team that played many of its defensive starters for the entire game.

"All the things you aren't good at, you try to perfect those," Smith said. "All the things you are good at, you still try to do your best and do well with those. You kind of have to be a horse with blinders if you want to be the best, because the route to greatness starts now."

Continuing on that route is up to Smith, who proved to be a more eager student than many expected.

Another class begins for the teacher today, in Los Angeles.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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