Unable to break his bad habits

ON THE RAVENS

Veteran quarterback continues to combine impressive play with maddening mistakes

Kyle Boller

August 08, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - For almost a half, Kyle Boller almost turned me into a believer. I was about to forgive him for his five previous years of bad football. I was going to forgive him for his fumble nearly midway through the first quarter and give praise to new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for possibly turning Boller around in a short time.

And then reality set in. With 6 minutes, 38 seconds left in the first half, Boller didn't see New England Patriots linebacker Shawn Crable, who stepped in front of intended receiver Adam Bergen and picked off the pass. About three minutes later, New England converted a field goal.

Haven't we been here before?

Boller started for the Ravens last night in the team's 16-15 win. It was a vintage Boller performance. He made some really great throws, put the ball where only a receiver could catch it. He showed mobility and a command of the offense.

And then he did some really stupid things, such as failing to tuck the ball away or staring down a receiver, which led to the interception.

You don't always put a lot of stock in preseason games, especially the first one. And there were some things to like about the Ravens' offense and Boller last night.

But the bottom line is that few people trust him, including most of the fans and, most importantly, his teammates. Because no matter how well Boller plays, we all keep waiting for that reckless Boller moment.

You could see it on Cameron's face immediately after Boller came to the sideline after throwing the interception. It's the same look that has been on our faces at various times during Boller's first five seasons with the Ravens.

How could he? What in the world was he thinking?

"Kyle did OK," Cameron said. "He was in control and was sharp at times. He'll be fine, and he knows better than anyone that we have to protect the ball."

I understand why first-year coach John Harbaugh started Boller last night. I agree with him. Boller is a former first-round pick, and the Ravens have invested a lot of time and money in him. Boller has the most experience, and he deserves one more opportunity to earn the starting job.

Plus, it's nice to keep Boller in that No. 1 spot for now as possible trade bait. But sometime in the next couple of weeks, Harbaugh's going to have to make a decision on Boller and whether he should be the starter over second-year quarterback Troy Smith.

Boller completed 11 of 15 passes last night, playing almost the entire first half. He was on the mark several times hooking up with wide receiver Derrick Mason, especially on those 12-to 15-yard out patterns.

He had several passes that were right on the outstretched hands of receivers for completions and barely past the hands of cornerback Lewis Sanders (Maryland). Boller moved in the pocket well and showed mobility when he was chased from it. He had two passes dropped and one that might have been for a big gain if Yamon Figurs had been able to hold on to the ball.

Overall, it was a solid performance, except for the Boller moments. The two turnovers were inexcusable, similar to the ones that have haunted him throughout his NFL career.

Maybe you could say it was nerves. Maybe he just made a mistake. But Boller keeps making the same ones.

My gut feeling is that Harbaugh will keep this quarterback competition open as long as possible. It's way too early to crush Boller's psyche for the year.

By keeping Boller at No. 1, it also motivates Smith to work harder. Smith's confidence has been a strength and a weakness, and sometimes it rubs people the wrong way.

The guess here is that Smith will start the first game of the regular season. His abilities are the right fit for this offense. The offensive line is inexperienced and will have problems protecting the quarterback.

The Ravens need a mobile quarterback, and Smith is more agile than Boller. Cameron will have to devise an offense in which Smith runs a lot of sprint-out, waggle and dump-off pass plays. He'll have to use him on option plays occasionally to keep defenses off balance.

Smith wasn't outstanding last night, either. He was 5-for-12 for 74 yards. Like Boller, he made some excellent throws and some bad ones. But he didn't have that costly turnover, the ones that have hurt Boller throughout his NFL career.

"I don't want to turn the ball over," Boller said. "That's the most important thing. I think we had some good plays and a few solid drives, but we have to continue to work on not turning the ball over."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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