Now Boller's task even taller as he grows into starter

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Four months after giving Kyle Boller the playbook, the Ravens handed him the starting quarterback job yesterday.

Boller was officially named the starter for next Sunday's season opener in Pittsburgh, continuing his rapid rise from a wide-eyed first-round draft pick to confident first-string quarterback.

The rookie became the ninth starting quarterback in Brian Billick's five seasons as Ravens coach by sprinting past Chris Redman in the preseason.

"It's crazy how fast time goes," said Boller, who was the 19th overall pick in April's NFL draft. "I think I'm prepared. A lot of hard work pays off. I have dreamed of being here."

Billick stressed that going with his quarterback of the future now doesn't alter the expectations of the present.

Although he admitted starting a 22-year-old isn't the status quo for teams with playoff aspirations, he reiterated Boller was the best choice to win in Pittsburgh and beyond.

The decision is a surprise of sorts, considering Billick said a month ago that "it's very tough odds to think a rookie can come in and miss so much as a day [of training camp] and think he can start." But after missing a week of camp as a contract holdout, Boller went from a long shot to favorite by outplaying his competitors in the preseason.

In four games, Boller was 40-for-68 (58.8 percent) for 456 yards and four touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 92.5 dwarfed the ones produced by Redman (54.0) and Anthony Wright (59.5).

"Kyle has been very impressive," Billick said. "His ability to absorb the offense has been shocking to me, and I've been doing this for a while."

Typically, rookie quarterbacks have trouble reading defenses, which results in interceptions and low completion percentages.

Billick indicated he will be tolerant of Boller but said there will be limits.

"Kyle understands that I'm not going to put this team in jeopardy," Billick said. "As long as he's not making the same errors, over and over again, I'm OK with that."

Boller won't have a chance to settle into the job, as his first test comes at Heinz Field against the AFC North champions and the NFL's seventh-ranked defense last season.

Known for their unpredictable pass rush, the Steelers averaged more than three sacks a game last year.

"They're an awesome defense and they have a lot of speed," Boller said. "My main concern is they're going to blitz me. It's obvious since I'm a rookie quarterback. They are going to bring some stuff. The only way I can handle it is to prepare myself and to know that when they get in a certain front I need to do this and that. I just need to prepare."

Lending a hand in that preparation will be Redman, who was gracious in losing the competition.

"I want to help Kyle out as much as possible and be a team player because I feel like I've been that way throughout my entire career," Redman said. "There's no reason to change now."

Redman, who was 3-1 in his last four starts last season, learned of Billick's decision Friday and wasn't shocked at the outcome.

"It was frustrating and disappointing," said Redman, who completed just one of six passes in the final preseason game. "A decision had to be made, and I have to live with it and move on. I'll keep my head up and keep moving forward.

"I'll be ready to go once the opportunity shows itself. I feel like I can lead this team to where it wants to be. It's just a matter of time."

Billick agreed that Redman will likely be on the field at some point this season.

"Chris Redman is going to play this year. Statistically and historically, you know it's going to happen due to injury or lack of performance," Billick said. "I have a great deal of faith in Chris Redman. Those who want to specifically say I don't have a good relationship or that I don't like Chris Redman are either ill-informed and/or ill-intended."

All of the Ravens interviewed in the locker room backed Boller as the starter, although the decision was tougher on some players.

Tight end Todd Heap had his Pro Bowl year jump-started when he became a frequent target of Redman.

"It really is hard to talk about," Heap said. "Chris is a great friend of mine. It's the nature of the business. Coach has to make a decision, but it was between two great quarterbacks, and you couldn't go wrong either way."

But choosing the starter extended beyond statistics.

"Kyle's very natural interaction with the players, the energy, the resiliency that this kid has - there's something special about that," Billick said.

After winning the quarterback race by proving to be a quick study, Boller is eager to get to the starting blocks in Pittsburgh.

"The day's come," Boller said. "This is my opportunity, so I have to take advantage of it."

Starting nine

Kyle Boller, who was named the Ravens' quarterback for the season opener at Pittsburgh, will be the ninth starter in Brian Billick's five seasons as coach. A look at the previous eight starters and their regular-season marks:

Quarterback Years W-L

Scott Mitchell '99 0-2

Stoney Case '99 2-2

Tony Banks '99-'00 11-7

Trent Dilfer '00 7-1

Elvis Grbac '01 8-6

Randall Cunningham '01 2-0

Chris Redman '02 3-3

Jeff Blake '02 4-6

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