Boulware's game more than sacks Ravens: Linebacker Peter Boulware hasn't been making the big play in his second season, but he hasn't been making mistakes, either.

November 13, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

He crashed the NFL scene with a big contract and a slew of big plays.

As a first-round draft pick with a knack for nailing quarterbacks, he missed his first training camp in a holdout, yet lived up to his advance billing quickly.

First, he garnered Rookie of the Month honors in September 1997. He finished by winning the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

So, what's wrong with Peter Boulware? Is it a sophomore jinx? Is it the lingering effects of an irritated rotator cuff in his right shoulder? Where are the sacks that people assumed the former Florida State superstar would produce automatically?

Relax. Sure, Boulware's sacks, the statistic that pretty much defined him as a collegiate star and a pro rookie -- he led the Ravens with 11 1/2 last year -- are lacking. Nine games into his second year, Boulware has only five. But remember, Boulware is a natural defensive end learning how to play a position at linebacker he never tried until last year.

Upon further review, the evolution of Boulware is going well. And the adjustments continue.

"You don't always have to be doing something spectacular to be doing your job. When everyone is successful doing their job, the defense is successful as a whole," Boulware said.

"Last year, I came out fast, made a lot of big plays early, and everything clicked and fell into place. This year is a different story. I think I've played very consistent football, but I haven't been making the big plays. I'm not free-lancing and taking as many chances, and I'm making fewer mistakes. I'm not really disappointed, but this has been a tougher year."

The way defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis sees it, Boulware should not be judged strictly by his pass rush, which Lewis acknowledged needs to improve.

He sees Boulware forming into a more complete linebacker, which is no small task for a player originally groomed to fire out of a three-point stance and chase down opposing passers.

Watch Boulware most Sundays, and you'll see a player doing the studious, unselfish things that don't show up on stat sheets, yet have helped transform the Ravens' defense into one of the league's more solid units.

Lining up on the strong side, Boulware often can be found taking on the block of a tight end. Typically, Boulware isn't making the tackle. But he's turning the play inside, where tacklers like middle linebacker Ray Lewis are there to finish the play. Nothing glorious, just disruptive and effective.

And Boulware is no longer a lost soul in pass coverage, where his inexperience was exposed glaringly at times as a rookie. He has yet to be burned for a touchdown this season.

Boulware ranks fifth on the team with 49 tackles, 21 solo.

"Peter got hurt a lot playing the pass last year, but he compensated by getting two sacks a game or whatever, and [sacks] are what people on the outside want to see," Ray Lewis said. "Peter has made so much improvement as an outside linebacker. He's calm. He's slowed down. I think he's having a great year."

Said Marvin Lewis: "Everybody is making such a big deal about the sacks thing that it's probably hindering more than anything. Peter has progressed a tremendous amount. He understands why he's doing certain things now and what everybody else is doing around him. As the whole thing fits together, he's been a large part of why we've played the run better against good teams that run the football well."

Then again, Lewis adds, he wants to see more of the old Boulware, the reckless pass rusher who can change a game's tempo with a handful of plays.

The Ravens regularly put Boulware on the line of scrimmage in passing situations, but Lewis feels Boulware has taken numerous sacks away from himself with too many stutter steps and spin moves, instead of "just letting himself loose" against pass blockers.

Part of Boulware's problems can be traced to the shoulder injury he suffered in Week 2 against the New York Jets.

Boulware got hurt when he and teammate Michael McCrary collided while sacking quarterback Glenn Foley. Although the injury is healing, Boulware aggravates it weekly. The pain has affected his ability to use his hands as a pass-rushing tool.

"Sometimes, it's like I'm playing with one arm. I'll take a good shot [on the shoulder] and it goes numb for a play or two, then I'm OK," Boulware said. "But everybody has injuries. The question is how are you going to play with it?"

Boulware, who has not missed a practice, admits he started the season in competition with McCrary over who would get the most sacks.

As McCrary has pulled ahead with 12 1/2 , Boulware is conceding the title with some disappointment. But the rest of his job still drives him.

"I feel quicker, stronger and mentally a lot better than last year, when I was just reacting without really knowing what was going on," he said. "I study tape a lot more, and I look at more than just how to beat the offensive tackle [for a sack].

"In college, coaches always put it on me to make the big play. That's been the hardest thing to adjust to. I'm trying to play within a defense now. I'm having to realize there are 10 other guys on the field."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: San Diego Chargers

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: Sunday, 4: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 1

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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