Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Updated: April 17, 5:49 PM ET
Boller could go as high as top 10
By Wayne Drehs
Sit Kyle Boller down, look him in the eye and tell him you don't think he's that good. Better yet, tell him he doesn't have the strongest arm in this year's NFL draft quarterback class.
And then listen.
"Give me a time and a place and I'll be there," Boller responds. "I'll out-throw anybody. I'll be there. I'll get on a flight and be there in a half hour. Anytime, anywhere, any place, I'll be there. I'll throw next to anybody."
Carson Palmer. Byron Leftwich. Rex Grossman. Anybody. It isn't cockiness. Nor is it excessive arrogance. It's an unquenchable thirst for competition and unflappable sense of confidence. Boller, the former Cal quarterback who went 1-10 his junior season and almost quit the game 18 months ago now believes he's one of the best. And if you don't agree, he'll beg for a chance to shove it down your throat and prove it.
Which makes his decision to sit out the passing drills at last month's NFL combine all the more fascinating. While Palmer, Grossman and others flung 22 balls at moving targets, Boller just stood there and gut-wrenchingly watched his competition compete.
"It was one of the hardest things I've ever done," Boller said. "I was real close to grabbing a ball and saying, 'Screw this. Let's go.' I'm just so damn competitive. But I trusted my agent, he had a plan and we stuck with it."
The plan was for Boller to concentrate on showcasing his arm at the Senior Bowl, his athletic ability at the combine and his arm one last time at his pro day workout. It was a gamble. Aside from Leftwich, who was injured, every major quarterback prospect threw at the combine, leaving many to wonder what Boller was hiding.
He resoundingly answered "nothing" a month later, when he concluded his pro day workout by proving an earlier promise that he could drop to one knee at the 50-yard line and fire an airtight spiral through the goalpost. How impressive was the feat? Those in attendance -- coaches, general managers, scouts, agents -- applauded when the sizzling ball finally came to a rest.
Combine that with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl and a 3.99 shuttle run at the combine (faster than all but two receivers) and it's fair to say the gamble has worked. The quarterback who five months ago was considered the sixth-best in the draft, a likely second-day selection, is now seen as a potential top 20, if not top 10, pick.
"There aren't many guys who have come on like he has," said one NFL talent evaluator. "There are some scenarios where he could be picked ahead of Leftwich. And I don't think anybody would have imagined that six months ago."
But the road from a plodding, inaccurate, inconsistent quarterback that can't win to a prize catch in the upcoming draft hasn't been easy. A year and a half ago, when Jeff Tedford became the new Cal coach, he inherited a quarterback who was at the low point of his career. Boller, a former high school all-everything that brought with him enormous expectations to Berkeley, went 1-10 his junior year and his confidence was shattered.
"He was doubting if he even wanted to play football anymore. It was that bad," Tedford said. "He is so competitive and wants to win so badly that it really bothered him a lot. He was broken down. More than anything, I think he needed somebody to believe in him."
Enter Tedford. The former Oregon assistant, who worked with Joey Harrington and Akili Smith, broke Boller down and rebuilt his mechanics, footwork, decision making and most importantly, confidence.
In practice, he tied Boller's left wrist to his left bicep, to force his throwing motion to stay compact. He made Boller practice in tennis shoes, so that if his strides got too long, he'd slip and fall. And he used a set of checkers labeled with football positions to quiz Boller about his various reads and schemes in the Cal offense.
Boller was skeptical at first, but the plan worked. So much that Boller has continued working with Tedford in his preparations for the NFL.
"I thought he was a little bit crazy at first," Boller said. "But it helped me. A lot. And now, I can't even watch tape of myself from when I was younger. It's ugly. It makes me sick."
While Tedford has pushed Boller on the football side of things, Thomas Weatherspoon has done so on the physical side. A year ago, the 6-foot-3 inch Boller weighed a lanky 199 pounds with 12-percent body fat. At the combine in February, he measured 234 pounds with 7-percent body fat. Not to mention he's faster, more agile and has quicker feet.
From the beginning of the program, Weatherspoon played to Boller's competitive nature by putting him in workout groups with the receivers and the defensive backs who were also preparing for the draft at Weatherspoon's performance enhancement facility. Each day, Weatherspoon set the goal of beating the smaller, quicker guys. In the 40, in the shuttle run, in footwork drills, he beat them.
|Boller has gone from probable second-round pick to potential top 10 selection.|
||There aren't many guys who have come on like he has. There are some scenarios where he could be picked ahead of Leftwich. And I don't think anybody would have imagined that six months ago.”
||—An NFL talent evaluator
"Kyle, I'm telling you, has the gunslinger mentality," Weatherspoon said. "He doesn't give a rat's ass who you match him with. Bring 'em on, he doesn't care. So he fed off that. He went out there every day and tried to beat them."
To increase resistance, Boller trained in sand. In water. He trained with elastic tubing tied to his waist to hold him back. Anything he put in his mouth had to be either already on his diet or pre-approved. This went on for 10 weeks. And little by little, Boller shaved the athletic disparity between him and everybody else.
"I'd tell the guys 'That's a quarterback that just ran faster than you in the shuttle -- you know that, right? You know you're getting clowned by a quarterback?'" Weatherspoon said. "And boy would everybody get pissed and work even harder."
And in the end, Boller's 3.99 shuttle time was faster than anyone else he trained with.
Yet there are still plenty of detractors, Mel Kiper Jr. among them (Kiper's top five overrated prospects ). They question why Boller didn't win in college (he was 14-26 as a starter), why his career completion percentage is under 50-percent and why people suddenly think he's worth a Top 10 pick in the draft.
But talk to Boller and get a first-hand sense for that unwavering confidence and deep-seeded passion and it's hard to walk away. It's the reason the Ravens, who own the 10th pick in the draft, have flown Boller to Baltimore on a couple occasions for more analysis.
Head coach Brian Billick saw Boller's competitiveness first-hand, when he concluded a recent workout by putting a wastebasket 45 yards down field along the sideline. The challenge was for Boller to try and hit the can. Boller did, but never put the ball in the can (few ever do in this common Ravens drill). But an hour later, after Billick briefly stepped out of a meeting with Boller for a quick television interview, the quarterback found his way back to the practice field, lined up the garbage can and tried again. By himself.
And this time, he dropped two balls in the can.
"It's just the type of person I am. I'll compete at anything," Boller said. "If it's golf, if it's football, whatever. I will try to win that match. I have to win."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org