It’s a safe bet to say that Kyle Boller’s name was mentioned more than any other this weekend here in the Land of Pleasant Living. And for good reason. Sports fans in the area and even casual observers have unfortunately grown accustomed to the Orioles July swoon which leaves them at the doorstep of MLB’s also-rans. More than likely, the O’s will have their eighth straight losing season. Think about that. They haven’t finished over the .500 mark for 80 percent of the time the Ravens have been in Baltimore.
So naturally we look to the Ravens for some competitive sanity and for the most part, they’ve delivered. And this year holds the promise of more post season play and some have even said the Ravens could find their way to the Super Bowl in Detroit when February arrives — If!
If the Ravens can get competent play from Kyle Boller they can go far, perhaps the distance. Yet so far this preseason, that looks like a very, very big if. Kyle Boller stands in the way of our collective competitive sanity.
I’ve watched Boller closely during mini camp and during the three weeks of summer practice. I’ve seen the potential that Billick and Fassel boast about repeatedly. I understand the promise of this young man. But as time goes on, it appears more and more like Boller is nothing more than a promise in the dark and the light while it flickers at times, just won’t go on much less stay on.
And the pressure in mounting.
When Boller first arrived on the scene and spoke with the media, there was a nervousness in his responses to questions. He spoke rapidly and at times, all of his words were not decipherable. But of course we wrote that off to starry-eyed youthfulness and the newness to his surroundings and the NFL.
Now, it’s 3 years later and he has 25 regular season starts under his belt and the nervousness and rapid fire responses are still there. He carries it in his movements and the tension in his body stands before us as we watch his rigidity in the pocket. I wonder what he sees when he’s in the pocket? Is it helter-skelterish? Is his world a bit faster than ours? Could that force him to lock in on his receivers?
Maybe he’s been over coached. He had a carousel of coaches at Cal and he’s had several coaches in his ear as a Raven. Might he be the victim of information overload? Paralysis by analysis? Mix that together with the mounting pressures and this young man might be combustible.
Perhaps this explains his reputation as a slow starter. He needs to get into the flow of the game where his athletic skills kick the excess thinking mode to the curb. His first pass in Atlanta was delivered via Morse Code into the waiting arms of Ed Hartwell. His first pass against the Eagles was well over the head of an open Mark Clayton.
Derrick Mason said after Saturday night, "He just needs to calm down a little bit. He wants to make a play so bad sometimes. A couple of times, he got pressured and tried to get the ball out quickly. But with guys on your back, it’s hard to do that. He needs to stay composed like the player he is."
Like the player he is? We are still unsure of exactly what Derrick Mason means. Perhaps he sees the same things Billick and Fassel see. Then again, maybe he’s trying to be an encouraging teammate like Shannon Sharpe once was with Elvis Grbac.
The Ravens aren’t asking much of Boller. They simply want him to manage the game, set up the pass with the run and make a play every now and then without giving up the football. He also needs to manage that area of the field between his own 20 and 40 yard line. That part of the field is nearly as important as the red zone even if the result is a punt from your own 38. At least the possession has lengthened the field for the opponent against a very stout Ravens defense.
Sounds a bit like an old formula doesn’t it? Control the clock, run the football, protect the football and manage field position.
But the Ravens didn’t burn a first round pick and a second round pick to get someone who could be Trent Dilfer. They were interested in a franchise quarterback. They wanted a playmaker — a player whose leadership and ability to hit the homerun might make his supporting cast even better, thus taking the pressure to win off an aging defense. The move made sense (here comes that word again) if Boller performs like the franchise QB that the Ravens expect him to be.
You can’t sit there and say that they didn’t want him to be a franchise QB, can you? You don’t give up so much without the expectation of even more in return — particularly when you factor in the Ravens track record of success in the first round, if you weren’t planning on a franchise QB. Is Boller a franchise QB? He’s not shown any signs of that. Will he ever be? At this point it looks doubtful.
The Ravens have surrounded Boller with a supporting cast that should assure his success. On offense the Ravens have four players (Ogden, Heap, Lewis and Mason) with Pro Bowl credentials. They have solidified the offensive line and they spent their first round pick on a promising receiver in Mark Clayton. Clarence Moore is a blossoming deep threat and Jim Fassel is an accomplished quarterback coach with an impressive resume. The Ravens front office has done nearly all that it can.
That’s not to say Boller won’t produce. But saying that he will produce is yet another leap of faith because there’s no convincing evidence to support the statement.
We can look back to the second half of last season when he actually outperformed Ben Roethlisberger. One could even make the argument that since Boller’s supporting cast has improved and Roethlisberger’s has weakened, that he will outperform the toast of Pittsburgh this season. Last year Boller had 2,559 yards passing to go with 13 TD’s and 11 interceptions. Roethlisberger had 2,621 yards passing, 17 TD’s and 11 interceptions. Add in Mason and Clayton and subtract Plaxico Burress and it’s easy to see where Boller could surpass Roethlisberger.
But what if he doesn’t? What if the first two preseason games are an indication of things to come? How long will the Ravens stay with Boller? What are the alternatives?
Jim Fassel’s coaching career might ride on what the Ravens do offensively in 2005. Do you think he will want to stay with Boller if it’s obvious that Boller can’t get it done? Might he then lean on the very loyal and sometimes stubborn Billick to admit his mistake and pull Boller? If he doesn’t pull Boller, might it strain the relationship between Billick and Fassel? Will Bisciotti sit back and watch his investment in all star players go to waste and a frustrated fan base grow jaded and buy fewer jerseys? Bisciotti forced the issue with Matt Cavanaugh. Might he do the same with Kyle Boller?
It’s time for a little tough love for the Ravens’ No. 7. Too bad if it damages his psyche! I’m more worried about the psyche of the defense that continually picks up his inadequacies off the turf. It’s time for open competition at quarterback. It’s time to see what Anthony Wright can do with the first team. I’m not suggesting that Wright should move up the depth chart just yet. I think there‘s a reason he‘s a second string quarterback. I’m simply suggesting that it’s best for the team to at least give him some time with the first unit to see what he’s got. Maybe we like what we see and if not, maybe the second string QB stops being the most popular guy in town.