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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Hoping Starting QB Boller Is the Real Deal

September 07, 2003|Laura Vecsey | Baltimore Sun

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If Kyle Boller needs advice about what to expect Sunday, Lord knows there are plenty of former Ravens' QBs to choose from.

Last year's opening day starter was happy to oblige.

"Pittsburgh is a tough place to have your first NFL start, but we have a good game plan," Chris Redman said.

"It's definitely different from preseason. The speed picks up. There are a lot of nerves. It's pretty jittery. But after the first quarter, things will start to slow down. I'm sure Kyle will settle down."

Not that the lingering vision of Boller's beatific preseason touchdown strikes aren't enough to cause rational adults to fantasize about instant NFL greatness -- without all that usual rookie mess.

What an arm. What a face. What a name.

Kyle Boller. Kyle Boller. Kyle Boller.

If someone gave you a dollar every time the name "Kyle Boller" has been uttered in Baltimore since the one-year-wonder from Cal was picked No. 19 (by busy-signal default) by the Ravens in the NFL draft, you'd be as rich as Art Modell.

Of course, Modell stuck with the percentages on draft day. The Ravens' owner wanted Thundering Herd QB Byron Leftwich to be the crowning pick on his watch, but that's another story until Leftwich takes over for Mark Brunell in Jacksonville, which should be sometime in October.

Then, the comparative data will begin to roll in about who's better, Leftwich or Boller? That'll be fun.

At the moment, however, with the Ravens set to open at the raging home of the AFC North favorite, it's all about Boller.

Boller. Boller. Boller.

Between almost trading up for Leftwich and almost going with Redman, it's tough to deny a heady of sense of anticipation that has erupted for Boller. His name rolls off people's tongue like he's just been elected mayor.

Believe, indeed, hon.

With a smile that's got as much giddyup as his arm, Boller said he's flattered that the locals are obsessed.

"It's good to know people are rooting for you. It's awesome to have the support, But I've spent so much time learning the offense, I don't hear all the talk," he said.

This time, with this kid, you have to hope Ravens Coach Brian Billick is right.

Stick percentages and common sense where the sun doesn't shine (anywhere in rainy Maryland) and hope that this rookie quarterback is the one who can flaunt the odds, conventional wisdom and bald-faced reality.

It's a tough trifecta to win, but here's to Boller throwing more touchdowns than interceptions. Here's to the chance that he'll win more than he loses.

A 10-6 record would be sensational; 9-7 serviceable, But anything less would mean the Ravens did not live up to their potential, considering the return of a healthy Ray Lewis and an offense built around Jamal Lewis. Boller is in there because he can be spectacular.

Will Billick be tempted to call on that arm?

No football fan in the world -- even the ones who thought low-risk Redman was a better alternative -- would want Billick to artificially restrain Boller.

But you can only hope an 8-8 season (or worse) does not materialize, especially if it's because No. 8 can't process the blitz, see the field, spread the ball far and deep.

This is strange territory, rooting for Billick to be right.

The times Billick has been wrong about the position to which he is supposed to be the NFL's great guru have been chronicled more copiously than J. Lo's engagement to Ben Affleck.

Scott Mitchell is history and Elvis has left the building, thank goodness. Now it's Boller's turn, so the collective response is to flinch, to recoil in horror.

But what if?

What if in this rare case, despite the ocean of historical evidence to support the theory that Boller will falter, flail and ultimately fail in his rookie campaign, Boller succeeds?

"The physical abilities are obvious. The things we identified when we drafted him are real. Kyle is everything as advertised. That type of potential has to be developed," Billick said.

"Everyone wants to get myopic that Brian Billick is just in love with a strong arm has not ever talked to me or heard me. You're looking for a combination that Bill (Walsh) would called functional intelligence."

Functional intelligence must be the stuff that allows rookie QBs to not get their brains and confidence crushed.

"You're looking for a certain level of athleticism in the pocket. Can he step in and around difficulties? Vision and intelligence are on the list. Then, you've got to be able to throw the ball with a certain arm strength, have a certain character, leadership ability and energy," Billick said.

It pains us to admit it, given Billick's past, but he's right. It's impossible to ignore the electricity, talent and charisma of Kyle "Sunshine" Boller.

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