At No. 3, Sharper lines up big move Raven plays catch-up with Lewis, Boulware

August 01, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The "other" linebacker is still trying to find his fame.

First, there is middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who was a Pro Bowl performer in only his second season. Then there is strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware, the league's 1997 Rookie of the Year and newly acclaimed sack artist. And then there is No. 55.

It reads "Sharper" on the back of his jersey.

"That doesn't bother me. The recognition they've gotten just makes me work harder," said Jamie Sharper, the team's top pick in the second round of the 1996 draft out of the University of Virginia.

"Ray and Peter did so well last season and I have to do well to stay with the group, which is becoming one of the better ones in the NFL. It's a great challenge for me and my goal is to pursue excellence."

If those Ravens are to develop into one of the league's best linebacking trios, it's the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Sharper who will put them over the hump. Lewis has led the team in tackles the past two seasons and teams now keep him in mind when they put their game plans together.

Boulware led the team in sacks last season with 11.5, only one short of the league record at 12.5, shared by Leslie O'Neal and Simeon Rice. Teams definitely know where he is on third downs.

Sharper? He still has to elevate his game. But that's what makes his career so promising.

"Jamie has improved as a player. He's much better than last year," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "Occasionally, he'll slip back a little, but we're pleased with the job he's done."

"Jamie has further to go than the other two," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "But he had success last year, some of it around the quarterback, and we feel he can play a much bigger role this season."

So does Sharper, and he looks a lot more confident and comfortable this summer compared with last year as a rookie, when he held out of training camp for four days.

Sharper, the team's fourth-leading tackler a season ago with 79, spent the entire off-season studying Ravens game films as well as videotape of San Diego Chargers All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau, who plays a similar position.

In the Ravens' scheme, Sharper is supposed to be one of the team's top two tacklers, along with Lewis because they are both uncovered. He also should make a lot of plays on pass defense because he often draws the slot receiver and has to cover considerable ground between the hash marks, where most passes are thrown.

Sharper didn't make the plays consistently last season. He was even benched before the game against Miami. It was all part of a roller coaster rookie season.

"I came into camp four days late and they threw me in with everybody," Sharper said. "It was kind of like, learn as the season goes on. I came in thinking I was going to make big plays, but I was thinking out there too much. I wasn't going full speed."

Marvin Lewis said Sharper has had a "positive" training camp so far. "He has both a better physical and mental understanding of what he should do, and the whole picture is a lot clearer.

"Now, he just needs to be more decisive and he can play a much bigger role."

It's all part of a maturing process, and Sharper is learning and growing with Boulware and Ray Lewis. From Lewis, Sharper has learned to attack, hustle and always be a part of the play. Boulware has taught Sharper some pass-rushing moves and how to have self-control.

As for strength, in the off-season Sharper improved his bench press by 15 pounds to 400 and can now squat 450 pounds 16 times.

There is another factor that motivates Sharper. His younger brother, Darren, is a safety for the Green Bay Packers and played in the Super Bowl last year.

Lewis, Boulware and Sharper.

"I think those three guys influence him greatly," Marvin Lewis said. "Jamie has the same kind of ability and attitude; he just has to go out and produce."

Jamie Sharper said: "Things are going good. I'm working hard. DTC I'm more familiar with what I have to do and things are coming a lot faster."

Pub Date: 8/01/98

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