Derrick Mason leaned against a wall in the Baltimore Ravens' practice facility and gave a nostalgic smile. The hiccupped development of quarterback Kyle Boller has once again dominated the conversations inside this franchise's corridors, and while Mason has only been here a few months, he has an eerie sense of familiarity. "It's so similar to what Steve [McNair] went through when I first got to Tennessee," the former Titans wide receiver said shaking his head. Mason settled into his stance and offered a refresher about a first-round quarterback who spent his first two seasons as a full-time starter getting pummeled and missing the playoffs. The struggling McNair put the state of Tennessee in an annual headlock and stoked the passions of mutinous fans, but the frustration paid long-term dividends. "I've never seen the situation happen to a quarterback so young, but yeah, I've seen it happen," Mason said. "Steve took the same kind of heat in his third and fourth year. The offense wasn't performing as well as people outside the organization thought it should have been. People were writing about him and guys were killing him in the news. … But Steve came around, and look what he did." Mason doesn't even have to say the word patience. It's practically become a mantra for the Ravens, who are once again drawing tight around Boller as he weathers a preseason which has seen him throw four interceptions and post a 52.7 quarterback rating. But Mason's reasoning is a different twist on the usual blue-skies propaganda teams crank out when protecting such major investments as a first-round quarterback. Not only is he a big-money free agent whose success is tied to Boller, but Mason has an intriguing argument to support the man he's defending: First-hand experience. McNair's first two seasons as the Titans' offensive centerpiece (a 55.7 completion percentage and 29-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio) weren't much more impressive than Boller's (54.4 percent, 20-20). Mobility aside, McNair – who sat on the bench for two years before becoming Tennessee's regular starter – even had a strikingly similar reputation of being strong-armed but erratic and showing only flashes of his ability. Even their weapons were similar, with Frank Wycheck being McNair's Todd Heap and Eddie George being his Jamal Lewis. "We were even running the same kind of base offense Steve's first two years as a starter," said Mason, a fourth-round pick by the Titans in 1997. "The tight end and the running game were very involved. The year before I got there, the tight end led the team in receptions and you had a back in Eddie that was a 1,300-to-1,400 yard rusher at that time. I come here, and it's sort of the same situation. "There's a young quarterback, the tight end [was among the team leaders] in receptions last year, and we have one of the best running backs in the league. It's going to be a run-oriented offense. The difference, like when things started to get good in Tennessee, is now we've got guys on the outside [at wide receiver] who can make plays." That was the point of Baltimore's offseason – to overhaul the offense in a way that it would help Boller round into form. The Ravens hired Jim Fassel as the new offensive coordinator and added Rick Neuheisel to be a constant influence as a quarterbacks coach. Then they added depth and quality to the receiving corps, drafting Oklahoma's Mark Clayton in the first round and signing Mason to a five-year deal with a $7 million signing bonus. There are other factors in play, too. Lewis and Heap need to stay healthy, and the offensive line – which has looked extremely average at times this preseason – has to play better. And the continued development of 6-foot-6 receiver Clarence Moore as a red-zone threat has to continue. But ultimately, the burden will fall on Boller to calm down in the pocket and make smart decisions. With the changes, the Ravens aren't trying to transform Boller into Peyton Manning, mind you. Instead, they're attempting to turn him into an efficient quarterback who makes an occasional big play and accentuates a strong defense and running game. Something like (and maybe Mason really does have a point here) McNair's role on the 1999 Super Bowl team – a year in which he averaged only slightly more than one touchdown pass per start. "There was something Steve had at that point that Kyle is still working toward," said cornerback Samari Rolle, Baltimore's other major free-agent acquisition who also watched McNair develop. "By the time they put all the talent around Steve, he was established as a player. Kyle isn't established. He's in a situation here where he's got to catch up to everyone around him. "Steve never pressed when things went bad. He just kept doing the things he was doing, and blocked the boos out and didn't let them get to him. I can remember times where everybody was booing and wanted Neil O'Donnell to be the starter. He overcame that, and Kyle's got to overcome that." To his credit, Boller isn't the only young quarterback who has struggled to make ends meet. The league is rife with guys who have yet to pay off on their perceived potential – Detroit's Joey Harrington, Houston's David Carr, and Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich, to name a few. Arguably, none of those players has been as consistently criticized as Boller. Yet, those realities aren't an excuse, especially with Baltimore's roster looking as playoff-worthy as ever. Not that Boller has looked for one. He's been remarkably composed despite criticisms, and he even went out of his way to blame himself for some of the sacks he suffered in last week's game against New Orleans. "When you see a guy hit me, I might have missed a hot read," Boller said. "We have to continue to iron it out. If [opponents] are going to bring seven or eight guys, we're going to do some quick stuff. You have to get the ball out of your hands." Ravens coach Brian Billick spread the blame around to the running backs and an offensive line that has been average at best. He then added that Boller is quarterback that's "trying to take his share of the responsibility." "That's why you love the kid," Billick said. But Billick's affections aren't universally shared, especially outside the franchise. And it would be foolish to think Baltimore could have so many offseason upgrades and not be banking on some serious maturation from Boller this season. The Ravens may be protecting him now, but that can't last forever. "It's all about, 'How do we feel about Kyle inside the organization?' " Mason said. "As long as we're winning games, and as long as Kyle is managing games the way he's supposed to manage them, then we'll be fine." The difference in 2005 is that Boller's success won't be a youthful bonus but a veteran expectation.