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Last week prior to the annual Pre-Draft Media Luncheon, Kyle Boller walked up to the buffet line in the cafeteria at Ravensâ€™ headquarters with tray in hand. He was alone. I couldnâ€™t help but notice the stark contrast between his look then and that of the starry-eyed kid on the day the Ravens introduced him to the Baltimore media on Day 2 of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Back then, the baby faced Boller seemed so young. He addressed the media sheepishly and nervously. He appeared not too far removed from high school and his first introduction to a razor. You know the type, the teenager who shaved because he thought he should and not because he had to.
Last Tuesday, as he slid his tray along the chrome buffet rails Boller looked much older â€“ aged by his NFL struggles and the accompanying criticisms. Dogged by high expectations and underachievement, Boller has been labeled a bust by most NFL observers.
The bounce in his step was missing. Today with his scraggily beard he looks more like Jake Plummer than a young franchise quarterback hopeful. His body language suggests that of a beaten man. Perhaps he is here in Baltimore.
I remember when Steve McNair first entered the scene here in Bâ€™more, Boller said all of the right things and clearly put the teamâ€™s needs ahead of his own â€“ at least publicly. He championed McNairâ€™s arrival and embraced the concept of the mentoring program, hopeful of learning from the tough, savvy veteran.
Many including yours truly, believed that McNairâ€™s arrival would be the best thing that ever happened to Kyle Boller. But that was 10 months ago. Today Iâ€™m not so sure. Iâ€™m not so sure that McNairâ€™s arrival will ever benefit Boller in Baltimore.
Thatâ€™s not to say that it couldnâ€™t benefit him elsewhere.
If you recall, prior to his outstanding combine numbers, Boller was regarded as a third round pick. Maybe that toss through the uprights from his knees at midfield actually cost Boller a career in Baltimore. The Ravens moved up to get Boller in 2003. They sacrificed a first round pick and a second round pick and in exchange, they received a raw prospect with upside who was not a consistent performer or winner in college. Today he isnâ€™t that much different, only older with questionable durability.
So great was the organizationâ€™s desire (particularly Brian Billickâ€™s) to land a franchise quarterback that they jumped at the opportunity afforded them by the New England Patriots, to select Boller with pick No. 19 in the â€™03 NFL Draft. How ironic that a quarterback was chosen by Baltimore with the nineteenth pick in the draft.
The Ravens were sucked in by the athleticism and the toughness and the Wonderlic scores and the ambition. So desperate were they to have a Brett Favre of their very own, they rolled the dice on Bollerâ€™s physical skills and intelligence hoping that the teamâ€™s ability to coach him up would pay dividends for many, many years.
Obviously the plan failed. Boller is not a franchise quarterback at the moment and the odds are certainly against him ever achieving such a lofty status here in The Land of Pleasant Living. The decision to move up and draft Boller and throw him to the proverbial wolves as a rookie may have cost the Ravens several playoff victories. The organization rolled the dice and bet that a stout defense collectively could be Bollerâ€™s wingman as he cut his NFL teeth.
When the dice stopped the club stared at snake eyes!
And thatâ€™s not on Boller â€“ thatâ€™s on the organization.
In business it is always wise to under promise customers and over deliver. The Ravens did just the opposite with Boller. The fans expected more and so did his teammates. How else do you explain the many thousands who absolutely love the Ravens yet cheered Bollerâ€™s injury on Opening Night of the 2005 season? How do you explain the lack of confidence the team has in Boller and in his ability to effectively lead them? No, the Ravensâ€™ players never said anything publicly â€“ they didnâ€™t have to. Their message regarding Boller was clearly delivered in the things they didnâ€™t say and in the things said upon McNair’s arrival.
Five years ago when Paul Tagliabue stepped to the podium to announce the Ravens second pick in the first round, Kyle Bollerâ€™s dream came true. And the riches followed.
And then came the heartburn.
The salary cap forces teams to test first round picks quickly. Clubs flat out canâ€™t afford cap hogs on their benches and that in part is why Ravensâ€™ Director of College Scouting Eric DeCosta often reminds us, â€œYou canâ€™t miss in the first round.â€
The money invested forces first round picks on to the field yet with the position of quarterback such force feeding can be dangerous. Young quarterbacks without the mental makeup to immediately handle the NFL upon exiting the collegiate ranks stand as much chance of surviving as a sea lion pup in shark invested waters. Imagine jumping from Algebra I to Calculus II in one year.
Bollerâ€™s career is now in limbo. If things go as the Ravens hope, he wonâ€™t see the field during the â€™07 regular season in a meaningful way. After the season, his contract will end. Who will be interested? Surely a starting position elsewhere would be a long shot at best.
However time has a way of changing things. One only needs to look at Bollerâ€™s career in Baltimore for proof. Much more can change for Boller over the next 10 months or so. He could fill in for an injured Steve McNair and he could lead the Ravens to the playoffs which might then validate the clubâ€™s initial belief in him. He could also fail which would certainly end his time in Baltimore and relegate him to a backup elsewhere, watching, waiting and hoping for another chance to start.
Kyle Boller deserved better. Heâ€™s rich with character and the consummate teammate. Yet at this point his career as a Raven appears ruined at least when measured against the expectations.
Boller and others should serve as lessons to GMâ€™s throughout the league. Unless the quarterback is a â€œcanâ€™t missâ€ prospect, why burn a first round pick on a quarterback, a historically overrated position in the NFL Draft? Why not wait for the middle rounds and then develop the quarterback slowly without the cap pressures that may prematurely force him into the starting lineup?
I wonder if there are days when Kyle Boller asks himself these same questions.
And I wonder if in the long run that 2003 combine performance hurt Boller more than it helped him.