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With respect to the opinions of many in Ravens Land and even some of my Sun sports colleagues, my vote is with Kyle Boller as the franchise's quarterback of the now and the future. I know that many in this football community, including some pretty knowledgeable journalists whose opinions I respect, believe otherwise.

With the exception of a few who may want to see Troy Smith play because they've despaired entirely of Boller, there is widespread acceptance -- by default -- that Boller will finish the season as the starter. Obviously, Steve McNair isn't coming back.

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But the opinion on Boller is divided with a lot of folks writing him off as a caretaker until the next draft. That's a mistake for several reasons.

Putting it briefly, A) Boller has generally had to play under exceptionally adverse circumstances; B)  He sill has a big-time arm that's plenty rare; and C) Drafting quarterbacks is always an iffy proposition and now we're looking at a crop of college QBs that lacks the blue-chippers of the last few years. (Free agent wise, I give you Vinny Testaverde and Tim Rattay).

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Over the last few days, a number of readers have written with their opinions on the subject. The crowd that's not-so-hot on Boller makes the point that he's in his fifth season and still struggles.  The most frequent line among the critics is that he's "not the long-term answer." The other side, which I happen to agree with, has made its arguments on behalf of Boller quite eloquently.

One reader wrote of Boller earlier this week:

He was thrown in as a rookie behind poor pass protection with only a tight end that actually caught the ball.  He had fifty different coaches re-working his mechanics and 60-70,000 fans (raining) down years of frustration upon him, even to the point where they cheered him being helped off the field injured.

Yet Boller never fired back at his critics, the reader noted, and -- I might add -- never seized on excuses.

No, I am not forgetting how poorly Boller has played at times. The game I recall in particular was against Denver in 2005 after he came back from an early-season injury. I was in an out-of-town sports bar and happened to be with some Ravens fans I had just met. Baltimore had every opportunity to win that game, but Boller was tripping over the hash marks it seemed and I remarked that he played as if he were wearing roller skates.

That has been his fundamental problem. He has lacked patience and in his rush to execute, he has looked panicked at times.

Now in his fifth year, he has played in just one full season -- his second in the NFL when the team finished 9-7 (and who wouldn't settle for that right now?). His third year was derailed by the ankle injury and by the time he got back, the team was pretty banged up. Last year, his fourth, he was a capable caddy for McNair. And we know how this season has gone -- he's been the occasional starter, fill-in, depending on McNair's fitness for duty. Through it all, he has been a team guy, shown mental toughness and displayed loyalty to the franchise and the city.

And there's one more thing.  Don't expect Boller to work miracles in these last seven games. The Ravens have the toughest stretch of games imaginable. Boller is probably going to be playing from behind in most of them with all the disadvantages that implies. And the offensive line is not playing anywhere near as well as it did last season (14 regular-season sacks in 2006 and 17 so far in '07). That means the bottom line on Boller will have to be weighted to reflect these realities.

So here's the conclusion. Unless Boller absolutely comes apart at the seams or John Elway magically appears in the draft or as a free agent (oops, bad example), a fair decision on whether he's a genuine playoff-caliber quarterback should wait until the end of 2008.

Photo credit: Christopher T. Assaf/Sun

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