OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Once hated and jeered, Kyle Boller is now being feted and cheered.
"Back in the saddle, man," Boller said. "It's a great opportunity. It's going to be fun to get back out there with my guys and put a nice game plan together."
Boller stepped into the starting position as a rookie in 2003 and maintained the job through 2005, even though the fans in Baltimore often booed his turnovers and uneven performances. After the Ravens went 6-10 in 2005, the team traded for Steve McNair and immediately gave him the starting job.
With McNair leading the way, Baltimore went 13-3 last season. This year, however, the 34-year-old McNair has struggled to stay healthy and protect the football. After his third turnover in Sunday's 21-7 loss to Cincinnati, McNair gave way to Boller, who entered to a chorus of cheers and led the Ravens to their lone touchdown.
Now, with McNair nursing an injured left shoulder and out for two or three weeks, it's time to see how the struggling Baltimore offense fares with Boller in control. The irony of being hailed by the same fans who once called for his dismissal is not lost on Boller.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't weird. But I think that's life in the NFL," he said. "I've talked to guys like Phil Simms and a couple different guys who said it's not always going to be great. It's an interesting occupation. There's only 32 guys that really get to do it. You got to keep battling keep fighting, keep going and good things will happen."
Ravens coach Brian Billick did not dismiss the concept of sticking with Boller after McNair is healthy again.
"Sure, that's a very good possibility," Billick said. "It has to do with Steven's strength as well as how we're going as a team."
Boller is 15-4 in his career at home as a starting quarterback. He's no Peyton Manning, but he's a work in progress who still has plenty of potential.
"You see that with every player, particularly a quarterback, especially one who's thrown in there at such a young age like Kyle was. He's definitely progressed," Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "He sees the field better, he sees it faster, he's right there."
As a rookie, Boller threw nine interceptions and seven touchdowns. He improved slightly in each of the next two seasons, and last year benefited from advice he received as McNair's backup.
The depth chart went unchanged during the summer, so Boller entered this season unsure of how much playing time he would receive. He ended up replacing an injured McNair in the opener and has played in seven of Baltimore's nine games, starting three of them. He's 2-1 as a starter this season and overall has three touchdown passes and three interceptions.
"I learn something new each and every game," Boller said. "Sometimes when you're on the sideline, you don't really get a chance to see it as close as when you're out there. So it's been good that I've had an opportunity to play in a lot of different games this year. Different situations, also."
Should Boller get hurt, the Ravens would turn to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, who has yet to take a snap in his rookie season.
"It's definitely an eye-opening situation," Smith said. "When they call my number, I'll be ready."
Notes: The Ravens have ruled McNair (shoulder), CB Samari Rolle (illness) and WR Demetrius Williams (ankle) out for Sunday. TE Todd Heap (thigh) did not participate in practice. ... The team placed LB Prescott Burgess (hip) on injured reserve and signed WR Matt Willis to the active roster from the practice squad.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press