Boller remains work in progress

PHILADELPHIA -- Remember all those stories about Kyle Boller that preceded the 2003 draft, the tales which suggested that the then-University of California quarterback could, from his knees, rifle a football 50 yards and through the goal post at the far end of the stadium?

Well, there were times during his largely forgettable rookie campaign when Baltimore Ravens coaches and team officials might have recalled that parable and found themselves wishing Boller would try playing the position while genuflecting.

The results, after all, might not have been any worse as the Ravens limped through the year with a miserable passing game that might best be described as a fling and a prayer.

In 11 appearances overall, and during a season in which he did not make a start following a quadriceps injury sustained in a Nov. 9 loss at St. Louis, Boller completed 116 of 224 passes for 1,260 yards, with seven touchdown passes, nine interceptions and an anemic passer rating of 62.4. Despite claiming the AFC North title with a 10-6 mark, the Ravens ranked statistically as the NFL's worst passing team, had the fewest attempts in the league, and all but redefined the term "one dimensional."

Were it not for the brilliant performance of tailback Jamal Lewis, who became only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, the Ravens offense would have been, well, downright offensive.

"There were a lot of (mitigating) circumstances," acknowledged Boller, reflecting on his difficult baptismal season. "But the bottom line was, we weren't very good throwing the ball, and we have to get better. It's that simple."

Actually elevating the Baltimore passing attack to the level of merely mediocre might not be nearly as facile as Boller, the latter of the Ravens' two choices in the first round in 2003, and a prospect for whom the franchised sacrificed its top pick in the 2004 lottery, suggests that it might be. Suffice it to say, there is considerable work to be done.

Outside of the sure-handed Kevin Johnson, the wide receivers remain inconsistent, and someone like former first-round pick Travis Taylor needs to provide a deep threat. An offensive line unit more accustomed to drive-blocking for Lewis isn't especially proficient in protecting its quarterbacks. And Boller, for all the hands-on and individual attention he has gotten from former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, hired as a consultant this offseason, remains very much a work in progress.

During the first two preseason games, in which he logged 62 snaps, including 41 plays in the first half of a loss at Philadelphia last Friday night, whatever progress Boller seems to have made hasn't nudged much beyond incremental. He has completed 15 of 29 passes for 153 yards, with one touchdown pass and an interception.

His completion rate this preseason, 51.7 percent is actually a tick below his 51.8-percent accuracy mark of 2003. More significant, perhaps, is that Boller hasn't looked markedly more comfortable in the pocket than he did a year ago, when he suffered a terminal case of "happy feet" and struggled mightily with his mechanics.

Both those elements, trying to play the game at something less than hyper-speed and honing basic techniques, have been offseason priorities for Boller. And the development of Boller, who had a 5-4 record in his nine starts in 2003, is certainly an ongoing priority for the Baltimore organization. That is evidenced by the fact no less than four coaches -- head coach Brian Billick, senior consultant Fassel, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and quarterbacks/receivers assistant David Shaw -- have their fingerprints on Boller on a fairly regular basis.

Boller has debunked the notion there are too many voices in his ear. But some people in the league who witnessed at least one of Boller's two preseason appearances insist that he looks at times like a player who is overcoached and not quite certain of whose advice he should really heed.

Whoever is serving as the counselor du jour, the message to Boller at least has been more consistent than he has. The Ravens want him to be less frenetic in the pocket, to set his feet before throwing, to be more decisive in general. As noted here in the past, quarterbacks generally don't succeed in the NFL until they are mentally able to slow the speed of the game.

There have been flashes of pocket presence so far but, in general, the athletically-gifted Boller, more mobile than most people think, is still too spotty. There are snaps on which he still races back to the pocket, looks harried even when he isn't, loses patience and just abandons the play-call, then looks for somewhere to run.

"We want him to be more relaxed," said Fassel, "to take him time and not feel like he has to do everything at 100 miles per hour. We want his feet under him, his shoulders squared as he delivers the ball, attention to the little detail things that make a difference. There is a lot there to work with, but you don't accomplish everything as fast as everyone wants you to. But sooner or later you get a pretty finished product."

And a player who can actually stands perpendicular, instead of on his knees, to make his best passes.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.