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To shine, Boller has to polish accuracy


A sense of hope stirs in training camp every time Kyle Boller zips a tight spiral squarely into the chest of receiver Derrick Mason.

Then there's those chilling moments when Boller overthrows 6-foot-6 Clarence Moore for an unsightly interception.

If Boller wants to make the jump from a young quarterback to a legitimate one, he needs to execute consistently and accurately -- and do it quickly.

Boller enters his third season as a starting quarterback, a pivotal one by the NFL's standards. Traditionally, a team should be able to tell if a quarterback can succeed in the NFL by that point.

"With the experience I've had, this is an important year for me," said Boller, who becomes the first quarterback in the franchise's 10-year history to start more than two seasons. "But I think it's going to be a much easier year. The fact I understand the game a lot better, I'm going to be able to go out there and play versus over-thinking things the last two years."

The Ravens have given Boller everything he needs to succeed. They signed Mason. They drafted receiver Mark Clayton (who missed his second day of camp). They hired Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator and Rick Neuheisel as quarterbacks coach.

That's why many consider this a make-or-break year for Boller, one in which he either validates himself or makes the Ravens question their investment in him.

"Kyle is not the only quarterback in this league where everyone focuses in and says, 'We'll go as he goes,' which is not true and really not fair," Fassel said. "Kyle needs to not feel pressure that he has to carry this team on his back."

Much of the blame for the Ravens' perpetual struggles (the offense finishing last in passing in 2003 and second-to-last in 2004) has fallen on Boller.

But the criticism hasn't caused Boller to feel the burden of having to do it all.

"I don't have to be God. I just have to be efficient," Boller said. "I think I have handled the pressure and will continue to handle it well going into the season. It's professional football, and I want to be one of the top-notch quarterbacks."

To reach that level, Boller needs to boost his accuracy.

That was Fassel's main project as a consultant last season, when Boller's decision-making was rushed and his delivery was tense. Fassel smoothed everything out from how Boller moved his feet to how he carried the ball. The goal was to make him fluid and feel comfortable.

With Fassel's help, Boller's completion rate improved from 51.8 percent to 55.6 percent. Still, 60 percent is considered the starting point for quarterback excellence.

"If his fundamentals are sound, that's all you can do," Fassel said. "After that, that's why they pay him the big bucks."

Not everyone outside the Ravens' organization is convinced he can become an accurate quarterback. Scouts see him as a straight-line thrower who lacks the touch of the elite players.

In a recent Sporting News article, Boller was rated No. 1 among NFL quarterbacks who don't protect their receivers over the middle. A story on said Boller's inaccuracy "could even lead to a rebellion from a Frisbee-catching dog."

"Do I look at Kyle Boller and know he is a great thrower of the football? No," said Phil Simms, the former New York Giants quarterback who is a television analyst for CBS. "But even though he doesn't have it all throwing the ball, he has the big arm to make big plays."

The first two days of practice have been uneven for Boller. His strong throws downfield have been tempered by two fumbles in the first practice and four interceptions yesterday.

But it appears as if the confidence of Boller's teammates has grown along with that of the former first-round pick.

"He's definitely more in control of what he wants to do," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "This year, when he steps in the huddle, there's no hesitation about it. Everyone just knows it's Kyle Boller's offense."

Off target

Kyle Boller's completion rate the past two seasons:

Yr. Pct. NFL rank NFL avg.

'03 .518 31st .582

'04 .556 30th .598

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