-- The quick and easy way to summarize the Baltimore Ravens' offense last season is to say that the Ravens were the NFL's best rushing team and the NFL's worst passing team.
It's the latter part of that characterization that Kyle Boller has grown tired of hearing.
"I take that as a personal thing," Boller, the Ravens' second-year quarterback, said Monday, the first day of the team's passing camp. "I want teams to respect us, and know that we have a good passing game. Obviously, we have one of the best running games, but we can also pass the ball."
The Ravens ranked last in the NFL in passing offense (140.9 yards per game) in 2003, and they were only slightly better in 2002 (ranked 27th, 177.9 yards per game).
"Well, hopefully a lot better than the old-look passing game, I guess," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said, when asked about his first look at the "new-look" passing game.
"Obviously, the key right now is wrapping this around Kyle and what he's comfortable with. It's going to be a progression . . . to continue to get everyone comfortable with what we do well in the passing game and hopefully, the results will show up."
This four-day passing camp is not mandatory, though most of the Ravens attended Monday's 80-minute, helmets-and-shorts workout at the training facility. A handful of significant players were among the no-shows, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware, and cornerbacks Corey Fuller and Chris McAlister.
Running back Jamal Lewis, the league's leading rusher last season, also chose not to attend. He is facing drug conspiracy charges in Atlanta.
"Particularly given Jamal's circumstances, we've talked with Jamal, and this is not something where his presence was needed," Billick said. "He'll be up in June [for the Ravens' mandatory minicamp]."
Monday was Boller's first opportunity to throw to his full complement of wide receivers, a group that was bolstered last month by the addition of veteran Kevin Johnson and draft picks Devard Darling and Clarence Moore.
Johnson caught 58 passes last season -- one more than the Ravens' leader, tight end Todd Heap -- in 15 games with Cleveland and Jacksonville. He is heading into his sixth season in the NFL, which makes him the most experienced receiver on the Baltimore roster. Even though he still is learning the playbook, Johnson was already offering pointers on releases and routes to the other receivers, Travis Taylor said.
And Johnson has already told Boller where he wants the ball: "Anywhere within here, he'll go get the ball," Boller said, extending his arms in a big circle. "That made it easy for me."
Boller started the first nine games last season before being sidelined with a torn quadriceps, and completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards, 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. His quarterback rating of 62.4 was the lowest in the AFC.
During the offseason, Boller has worked on his mechanics. Former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel joined the Ravens as a senior consultant this past winter, and has worked with Boller on some of the most basic fundamentals.
"He's helped me out a lot so far," Boller said. "A lot of times rookies seem to forget about fundamentals. He's come in and really explained certain things that I kind of got away from during my rookie year . . . [Like] my feet. I was real tight in the pocket, the ball was up real high. I wasn't really moving fluid. It didn't look good. I'm just trying to relax a little more and go through my progressions, not be so tight."
The difference between this year and last year -- when Boller was a first-round pick fresh out of California -- is like night and day, Boller said. Heap noted a change in Boller's demeanor, and Billick said that the biggest difference in Boller is his "calmness."
"He's not so much relying on his arm strength any more," Taylor said. "He sees the defense, he knows what he wants, he knows how to get it there."
Boller watched video of every snap he took last season, and also studied New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Boller and Taylor met three times a week over the past month and a half to work on routes and establish a better rapport.
"It's definitely good to see him putting in the work," Heap said. "I think it's going to pay off this year."
Even the time that Boller spent on the bench last year because of his injury helped him. It gave him a chance to watch the game from a different perspective, to see how his replacement, veteran Anthony Wright, responded to different situations.
"I felt very smooth today," Boller said. "Working with Travis and some of the guys [during the past few months], it just felt like things were a lot easier. I understand the offense better obviously, but I feel like my mechanics and that kind of stuff, I'm just getting back to playing football."