About 10 minutes after the long-expected naming of Jim Fassel to the Ravens' coaching staff, coach Brian Billick dropped this unexpected announcement at yesterday's news conference:
Kyle Boller is the starting quarterback next season.
The second of two first-round picks last year, Boller will enter training camp atop the depth chart while the Ravens attempt to re-sign unrestricted free agent Anthony Wright to be his backup.
"Barring injury, I can't conceive of a situation that [Boller] wouldn't be our starter going into the season," Billick said.
Billick had remained noncommittal on his starting quarterback since the Ravens lost to the Tennessee Titans, 20-17, last month in the first round of the NFL playoffs, saying the team needed to go through an extensive decision-making process.
Boller started the first nine games of his rookie season, compiling a 5-4 record while completing 51.8 percent of his throws for 1,260 yards, with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. But a leg injury forced him out of the lineup and opened a spot for Wright.
A third-string quarterback for the first half of the season, Wright helped the franchise win its first division title, finishing 5-3 as a starter (including playoffs). In the regular season, he connected on 52.8 percent of his passes for 1,199 yards, with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"By any objective evaluation, you had to be pleased with the progress that Kyle made," Billick said. "You were beginning to see that development, and with every game, it seemed to be a little bit better. We really felt like that light was really going to come on for him.
"Anthony performed brilliantly, too. But there is a business side to this, and we've committed resources to Kyle. Certainly, Kyle didn't do anything not to be named the starter. In fairness, neither did Anthony. As we went forward and evaluated it, the next natural step was to continue with Kyle as the starter."
Boller, 22, has built a house in the Baltimore area and will live here year-round beginning in March. That way he can concentrate on watching film and working out at the Ravens' practice complex.
"It's huge to know I'm the guy, and that everything's on me and they're believing in me to be the starting quarterback," said Boller when reached on his cell phone in San Francisco. "At the same time, there is still competition. I'm going to go out there and try to do my best. It's not like I can slack off. I'm going to be working that much harder to show that I am the starter."
Last year, Boller beat out Chris Redman for the starting job in training camp. Billick, who has never favored quarterback competitions, wanted to stay away from staging a similar battle this time.
"You can't prepare two quarterbacks that way," Billick said. "It wouldn't be fair to Kyle or Anthony in that regard."
Wright, who turns 28 this month, did not return phone calls last night. He will be an unrestricted free agent in March.
"If Anthony Wright has a chance of going some place as a starter, he should, and we'll encourage and help him in all that we can," Billick said. "Short of someone totally committing to Anthony under those terms, we very much want Anthony back. He understands that.
"I'm really optimistic that Anthony will come back here. I can't think of a better situation for us than to go into the season with Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright in the stable. As every team has to have, we'll have an excellent one-two punch."