Boulware, Sharper give, take Rookie LBs admit nerves, mistakes

September 01, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

As Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper warmed up on the Memorial Stadium field before their official NFL debuts, the butterflies were wildly active in the stomachs of the Ravens' rookie linebackers.

Between the opening kickoff and the hard-to-swallow ending of yesterday's 28-27 loss to Jacksonville, the Ravens' starting outside linebackers made their share of plays and committed their share of miscues. All of which was to be expected, according to middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who stood in their shoes a year ago.

"Everybody is shaky today, and those two guys have never played in the league before," Lewis said. "They come in with butterflies, and they're concentrating on other things. They just had to calm down and play football. That's what I was basically trying to get through to them."

Lewis' message got through, to an extent. In the end, the Ravens' top two draft picks of 1997 performed at an inspired, although uneven level -- pretty much what is expected of a pair of rookie starters.

Boulware, who played virtually the entire game, finished with three tackles and a sack. The sack came on a first-quarter play near the Jacksonville goal line in which Boulware flew into the Jaguars' backfield untouched to drop quarterback Rob Johnson for a 3-yard loss.

Sharper, who was not on the field in third-down, passing situations, finished with five solo tackles. Overall, he had a steadier game than Boulware, which is probably a reflection of the two picks' preparation time.

Sharper missed 10 days of training camp with his contract holdout, while Boulware missed all of camp and has been with the team for barely two weeks.

And Boulware, who concealed numerous blown pass-coverage assignments with his relentless hustle, wasn't buying any excuses.

"I missed time, because it was my choice to miss time. It's my job to make up that time and help my team," Boulware said. "I've got to get back on top of my game. I was hyped up, and I was making a lot of mistakes. You can be aggressive, but you can't make the kind of mistakes that hurt your team.

"There were some plays [Jacksonville completions] where it looked like our defensive backs weren't playing their receivers the right way, but I was supposed to be over there [in the flat] helping out. It felt good to make some big plays [like the sack], but my attitude is you can't have a good play between a bunch of mistakes. Overall, I give myself a C-minus."

Sharper had some fine moments. He dropped Jacksonville running back Natrone Means twice for losses on the Jaguars' second series -- the only Ravens highlights in a 12-play, 93-yard march that Means finished with a 1-yard plunge to give the Jaguars a 14-0 lead.

Sharper was beaten several times in pass coverage over the middle by tight end Pete Mitchell, although his downfield hustle earned him two more tackles.

Sharper said he was pleased with the way he read his keys from the weak-side position, and he felt he kept his emotions in check pretty well once the game got under way. His pre-game warm-up was another story.

"You're out there warming up, and you start to realize that a lot of people try to get to this level and fall by the wayside, but you've made it here," Sharper said. "It was emotional at first for me."

Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary, who dressed but did not play -- he's not quite ready to return after having arthroscopic knee surgery last month -- said he empathized with Boulware and Sharper.

"They have to learn the game, and they're making those young, mental mistakes right now," McCrary said. "But they stepped up like a lot of guys did after Jacksonville scored those two touchdowns.

"Jamie is the perfect specimen for a linebacker. The speed, the size, the smarts. Once he puts them together, look out. Peter reminds me of me when I was a rookie. He's got so much speed and determination and heart. All he needs to do is learn."

Pub Date: 9/01/97

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