Quarterback Kyle Boller has spent the past two years growing into this role of offensive leader on the Baltimore Ravens. Now it seems like it's finally starting to fit.
"He's just being more aggressive and more confident," center Mike Flynn said as the Ravens wrapped up their mandatory minicamp practices on Wednesday. "The receivers and quarterback have taken a lot of flak, but they're a lot more confident and they're having fun out there, which is a good sign."
"This is all orchestrated for Kyle, this playbook, this offense, because he has to be successful," Coach Brian Billick said. "We have every confidence he can be, not only with the people we brought in, but with the structure we've wrapped around him."
Baltimore's passing offense ranked 31st in the NFL last season with an average of just 144.5 yards. The Ravens had built-in excuses: tight end Todd Heap, Boller's favorite target, was sidelined for 10 games with an ankle injury, and running back Jamal Lewis, the focal point of the offense, missed four games due to injury and suspension.
Boller, the 19th overall pick in the 2003 draft, showed signs of improvement. During the final eight games, he threw for an average of 182.3 yards per game, and he had 10 touchdown passes and five interceptions. In a 37-14 win over the New York Giants on Dec. 12, Boller had four touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 112.3 (both career-bests). He started all 16 games, the first Baltimore quarterback to do so since Vinny Testaverde in 1996.
The Ravens upgraded their offense in the offseason. Baltimore signed free agent Derrick Mason, a two-time Pro Bowler, and drafted Mark Clayton, an all-American at Oklahoma, giving Boller two wide receivers who can create yards after the catch -- something that was sorely lacking last season.
"They brought in some guys who are going to help me out," said Boller, who turns 24 on Friday. "It's going to be my job to get the ball in their hands and let them make plays. Let them be my playmakers."
The Ravens also surrounded Boller with a coaching staff he feels comfortable with. They hired Jim Fassel as their offensive coordinator; the two established a relationship last year when Fassel served as a senior offensive consultant. Rick Neuheisel was brought in as quarterbacks coach; he recruited Boller while he was the head coach at the University of Washington and Boller was a standout high school quarterback in California.
Unlike last season, when Boller had the voices of four men -- Billick, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, quarterbacks coach David Shaw and Fassel -- in his head, this year, it's just Fassel's.
"He's the guy," Boller said. "There's going to be one voice. Everything that he says, it's going to be my job to relay it to the offense and to do."
Fassel wants the offense to become more efficient, and he has highlighted two areas that need to improve: completion percentage and yards after the catch. He wants Boller to complete 63 to 64 percent of his passes, which would represent a significant jump from his career completion percentage of 54.4.
"I have a lot more confidence in [Boller]," Fassel said during the Ravens' media clinic last month. "Like I told him, he's got to show me confidence and I'll call those plays down there and he'll make the right decision. His first year, that was really shaky. Last year, the second half, he really came on. I think he's going to make that progression."
Boller devoted much of the offseason to working out in Owings Mills. He and several of the offensive skills players met on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to review the new offense.
"This is my offense," Boller said. "It's going to be my job this year to rally the guys. Our passing game has struggled in the past, but that's the past. We have the future to look forward to. If I'm not a leader, then we have a problem."
Ravens Notes: Billick canceled Thursday's practice, which was to be the last team workout until training camp. . . . Cornerback Samari Rolle left practice early with a slightly strained hamstring.