One can see the disappointment in his eyes and face after every practice, but the smile appears when the conversation turns to the start of the 1999 season. That's when the Ravens will turn outside linebacker Peter Boulware entirely loose.
Until then, Boulware is on restriction. Doctor's orders.
"This most definitely has been frustrating," said Boulware after yesterday's morning practice. "You look out there and watch everybody getting ready, and you're not out there because you can't push it. But I also realize that once the season starts I'll be ready. Your preseason record doesn't count in the final standings."
Boulware sustained a subluxation, or dislocation, of his right shoulder while participating in tackling drills during the final day of minicamp in June. He spent the remainder of the off-season building strength back in the area in preparation for training camp, but the Ravens don't want to risk further injury at this point.
When healthy, Boulware is one of the better pass rushers in the league. He had 11 1/2 sacks in 1997 when he was the league's defensive Rookie of the Year. He had 8 1/2 sacks last year with 83 tackles, sixth best on the team, and was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said Boulware could play today if the team had a game, but the team doesn't want to hinder his progress.
"I could play against Philadelphia next week," Boulware said, "but why take a chance on something crazy happening? Professionals get hurt. You have to find a way to prepare yourself even though you're not right. That's what I'm trying to do right now."
It has been a gradual process. Boulware started off training camp with little activity but put on shoulder pads for the first time Thursday. He occasionally works with the first unit in non-contact team drills and then does stretching exercises and resistance drills with the trainer during full-contact team periods.
Boulware has been staying around after practice running extra sprints to improve his conditioning. He was the last player off the field yesterday.
"He won't be in exact football conditioning until he gets through the pads, practice and the games," Lewis said. "Bill [trainer Bill Tessendorf] has kept him in pace, and I don't think conditioning will be much of a factor."
Boulware will probably wear a special shoulder harness this year. He wore a small brace last season after he injured the same shoulder in the first month of the season, but he says neither the brace nor the harness has limited his motion.
If Boulware re-injures the shoulder, a possibility exists that he could have surgery in the off-season.
"Last year I would feel a sharp pain, sometimes a numbing pain," Boulware said. "If I can make it through this season without injuring it, then that means it has been strengthened and I don't have anything to worry about. If I have a problem, then I'll consider the surgery. Supposedly, they send in some type of probe that will tighten the ligaments in the shoulder, and I'll never have another problem again."
This is a key season for Boulware and the rest of the defense. Despite impressive back-to-back seasons, Boulware still needs to improve on recognition, particularly in pass coverage. The linebacking corps has the opportunity to be one of the best in the NFL. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis has made the Pro Bowl team the past two seasons, and Boulware was honored last year. Including weakside linebacker Jamie Sharper, all three of them have played together for two straight seasons.
The defense will have to carry an offense that has been restructured by first-year coach Brian Billick and run by quarterback Scott Mitchell, who lasted only two games into the 1998 season as a starter for Detroit.
"We got some great players on this team," Boulware said. "We have Ray Lewis in the middle, Mike McCrary and Rob Burnett on the defensive line. We've been playing together for a while now, so we know each other well. We trust each other.
"Once I wear the shoulder harness long enough, I'll get used to it. I'm very anxious. With an injury, when you come back, you don't know until you take that first, good shot."
When: Through Aug. 26
Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster
Directions from Baltimore: Take Interstate 695 to Exit 19 to I-795 north to its end. Follow signs to Westminster via Route 140 west to Route 31 south. At blinking yellow light, turn left (Route 31). At first traffic light, turn left on Main Street. Proceed up the hill. The parking entrance is on the left.
Information: 410-261-FANS Pub Date: 8/07/99