- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller will make his NFL debut against arguably the NFL’s most blitz-happy defense tomorrow when the Ravens open the season against the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Meanwhile, Ravens coach Brian Billick has some advice for the 21-year-old rookie: “Tape your ankles and grab your [butt], son, because it’s going to be a [heck] of a day.”

The Ravens’ game plan is simple: keep rowdy Steelers linebackers Jason Gildon, James Farrior, Kendrell Bell and Clark Haggans off Boller. Haggans replaces injured Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, who was shot in the buttocks early Sunday morning in Denver

The Steelers, preseason favorites to win the AFC North, will give Boller opportunities to make plays, especially when they blitz and offer single coverage on the outside.

“My biggest challenge will be just staying calm and composed,” Boller said. “There will be some adversity. How I handle that is going to be very important for the team. With me being a young quarterback, they’re going to blitz me, so I need to make sure I’m prepared for all situations. My biggest thing for staying calm and staying composed is to be prepared. I feel the more prepared I am for any situation, the easier it is for me to go out there and execute.”

Only a week ago, the Ravens had no idea whether their opening day quarterback would be Boller or fourth-year man Chris Redman. The strong-armed Boller won the job with a strong preseason that saw him complete 40 of 68 passes for 456 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

Boller might be the only rookie quarterback in the NFL to open this season, depending on whether new Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio goes with Byron Leftwich over Mark Brunell.

If Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 1,327 yards last season, can run against the Steelers, it should take pressure off Boller. The Steelers were first in the NFL last season against the run with an average of 85.9 yards.

“The pressure is still going to be on him because he is a rookie quarterback starting off in a game like this,” Lewis said. “I really don’t think he knows what it’s like, but he’ll be able to handle it as long as he takes care of his job.”

Billick said preparing Boller for the Steelers is no different than preparing any other quarterback to go against Bill Cowher’s rugged defense.

“The preparation that we had to put [former quarterback] Jeff Blake through was no different and Jeff played very well and he made some mistakes and he was a veteran quarterback, but that’s what Pittsburgh can do to you,” Billick said. “So it’s the same preparation in terms of what you have to focus on, and we’ll go about it in that way.”

Boller’s confidence stems from leading the Ravens on three consecutive scoring drives in a little more than a quarter’s work against the New York Giants in the final preseason game. But he hasn’t always been successful. In college, he played on bad teams at California. Jeff Tedford took over as coach for Boller’s senior season and worked on his throwing mechanics by taping his non-throwing arm [left] to his chest to give him a more compact delivery.

Boller’s numbers rose dramatically last season, and he emerged as one of the top college quarterbacks in the country by completing 225 of 421 passes for 2,815 yards and 28 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

“He’s always been a confident guy,” Tedford said. “All the credit goes to Kyle. When you go 1-10 and get sacked more times than anybody in the country, I could see it was weighing on him.”

Meanwhile, Billick responded to published reports out of Pittsburgh saying that he’s excited about this season because the Steelers have to visit the Ravens in the last game and will lose the division title to the Ravens. Billick accused the Pittsburgh media of fabricating comments that he allegedly made at a charity fundraiser more than a month ago.

“Let me make sure that this is clear: There is not an organization, a coach or an ownership that this coach respects more than the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Billick said. “I say enough stupid stuff of my own and I don’t need you all to make it up, like some of you are doing over in Pittsburgh. I can take care of that category all by myself. So, I’d appreciate it if you limit yourself to what is actually said instead of making it up.”

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