- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One day removed from Baltimore’s 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans in an AFC wild-card game, rookie quarterback Kyle Boller proclaimed himself the Ravens’ No.1 signal caller heading into July’s training camp.

That was news to coach Brian Billick, since Anthony Wright finished the season as the starter even after Boller was determined to be physically sound from a knee surgery.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to be the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens and I have lot to work on in the offseason,” Boller said. “I’ve got nine games under my belt and I want to go into next season on a full sprint.”

“That’s the kind of mindset you want and that’s just what you want from the young man,” Billick said. “I’m sure his mentality is, ‘I left as starter, I’m going to come back as the starter,’ but as I said we will make those determinations as we look at the team as a whole and we’re able to sit back and remove ourselves from the emotion and fatigue of the year.”

The main shortcoming of the AFC North champions is clear. The Ravens, the NFL’s lowest-rated passing attack, must develop some balance on offense to take the next step. Baltimore was the only team in the NFL this season to have more rushing yards (2,669) than passing yards (2,517).

When the NFL’s free agency period begins on March3, the Ravens will have around $22million of salary-cap room to spend on wide receivers and quarterbacks. For the second straight offseason, the Ravens find themselves desperate to upgrade their passing game.

Wright, who went 5-3 as the Ravens’ starter, becomes an unrestricted free agent. He threw just one more touchdown (nine) than interceptions this season and might not provide enough experience or consistency to be considered a reliable backup or starter.

“We very much want to have Anthony Wright back, and Anthony knows that,” Billick said. “Under what circumstances and what parameters, that needs to be evaluated, in fairness to [the quarterbacks].”

Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap was the Ravens’ leading receiver this season with 57 receptions for 693 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Marcus Robinson came on late in the season. After catching just nine passes for 76 yards in the first 10 games, he pulled in 22 passes for 375 and six touchdowns over the final six games. Robinson, who the Ravens signed last offseason from the Chicago Bears, becomes an unrestricted free agent in March and may not be brought back.

Disgruntled San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens probably will be the biggest name at his position on the open market. Tampa Bay’s Keyshawn Johnson also could become available.

The Ravens may opt to stay clear of both volatile receivers. However, if Baltimore wants talent regardless of potential repercussions, Owens or Johnson could be the answer.

“Not knowing what is going to be out there for sure in free agency, I am not going to conjecture what we may or may not do. We’ll look at everybody at every position to see if we can augment this team,” Billick said.

The Ravens won their division despite being the third-youngest team in the NFL and the youngest to make the playoffs.

Defensively, there are few units better in the league. Five of the Ravens’ league-high eight Pro Bowlers play on that side of the ball. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year and rookie linebacker Terrell Suggs was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording a team-high 12 sacks.

“It’s young now, but in time this defense will ultimately go down as one of the best defenses assembled,” Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister said of the league’s third-ranked defense.

This offseason will see a change in ownership when minority owner Steve Bisciotti assumes full control of the Ravens from Art Modell in April. Also, the team will move into a new state-of-the-art practice facility. Construction of the Owings Mills complex has been delayed by the unusually wet weather.

“Steve Bisciotti has been a part of this process now for four years,” Billick said. “He understands the routine. We have already had conversations because of the transition, and things that [general manager] Ozzie Newsome and I have had to do leading up to this point that will precede the actual physical transfer of ownership of the club. With the Modells, the transition has been fairly seamless.”

Note — Ravens three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware will skip the Feb.8 Pro Bowl in Honolulu and undergo arthroscopic right knee surgery to clean out loose cartilage.

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