Kyle Boller: the lost years
Having failed to live up to franchise-quarterback expectations in Baltimore, Kyle Boller has a second chance to fulfill the promise he hinted at coming out of California in 2003. His new work address is St. Louis, his new team the Rams and his new job is backup to Marc Bulger on a very young, rebuilding team. Boller, 27, signed a one-year contract with the Rams on Sunday, and now we'll find out the rest of the story.
During six seasons with the Ravens, Boller was either terrible, overmatched, undercoached or overhyped. He probably lost the confidence of his teammates before he lost the faith of the fans. It didn't take long, and by the time the Ravens' new coaching regime rolled in last year, Boller seemed pretty much an afterthought. He spent his final season in Baltimore on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that happened when he was left to fend for himself in a preseason game against the Vikings.
The bottom line shows 53 games, 42 starts, 45 touchdown passes and 44 interceptions. Not good enough for the 19th pick of the first round in 2003. Why did Boller fail? There are many theories, but one of the most insightful comes to us from former Ravens teammate, and now Rams center, Jason Brown. This is what Brown told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at last weekend's Rams' minicamp:
"Kyle Boller with the Ravens, I love him to death, but you see what getting hit one too many times early in your career can do to you. He became gun shy instead of getting the ball and standing back there with poise and then being able to step up. If there was a flash of anything, something -- it might have been far to the edge -- he was like [flinching]. And he started to scramble. You have to have faith in your offensive line to where you say, 'Hey, I know these guys are going to give me the seconds that I need in order to get this ball off.'"
If Boller gets a chance to play in 2009, it'll probably be because Bulger didn't get those seconds. And Boller isn't likely to get them, either. He has a defensive-oriented head coach in Steve Spagnuolo, and a first-year offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur. Whether that combination can salvage Boller's career remains to be seen. But it can't do worse than the Ravens' coaching line of Brian Billick, Matt Cavanaugh and Jim Fassel.
It becomes clear now that some quarterbacks, like Joe Flacco, have the mental makeup to play early as a rookie. Others, like Boller, need more time. In 2003, after the team traded back into the first round to get him, Billick made the decision to start Boller in the season opener against the Steelers. For the rest of Billick's tenure, he defended the strategy and he defended Boller. Obviously, Boller was not compatible with the strategy. And it wasn't all his fault.
The Ravens got the quarterback thing right last year with some exquisite coaching and Flacco's tough mental character. They will always look back at Boller and wonder what might have been.