Boulware masters pop psychology

November 28, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

One false move, that's all it will take now. Peter Boulware's right shoulder is so loose, he dislocated it last week in Cincinnati without even making contact. One swing of the arm, and it could pop out again.

Imagine how difficult it is to play linebacker with one shoulder in a harness.

Imagine how difficult it is to tackle when you know the hit could cause severe pain.

"That's been the hardest part, especially this week after dislocating it a couple of times, just getting my mind to say, 'I guess I can go out there. It's going to be all right,' "Boulware said Friday after practice.

"Everything within me is telling me, 'Protect yourself.' Then you start playing the game in a protective mode, and that's when you become ineffective as a player. Mentally, I have to go out there and say, 'You know what? This thing is going to be all right. I have to give it all l have.'"

Boulware, 24, has been doing that all season and is tied for fifth in the NFL with eight sacks. He will take the same approach today against Jacksonville, but coach Brian Billick plans to start Cornell Brown at outside linebacker and use Boulware only on passing downs at the start of the game.

How long can this go on? Boulware suffered his first dislocation in the Ravens' final preseason game. Billick said he was surprised that it took this long for him to experience major discomfort. Trainer Bill Tessendorf said that Boulware might say "enough" before season's end.

"That will be the day we schedule the surgery," Tessendorf said.

If Boulware has his choice, that day will not come until the off-season, if at all. But this isn't like last season, when he suffered only partial dislocations, and could opt for rehabilitation over surgery. The moment Boulware's shoulder popped out in the preseason, " the die was cast," Tessendorf said.

What's incredible is that Boulware's shoulder has restricted him since early last season, and he still has recorded 28 sacks in 42 career games - the same number as Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor at the same stage of his career.

Boulware's total might be even more impressive, considering that he's an outside linebacker in the Ravens' 4-3 defense, while Taylor amounted to a rush end in the New York Giants' 3-4. Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis estimated that Taylor rushed 50 out of 60 snaps, while Boulware rushes only 20 out of 60.

How much could Boulware accomplish with two healthy shoulders? The thought is scary. He had two sacks on Nov. 14 in Jacksonville, raising his career total to six in five games against the Jaguars. Billick was still talking about one of those sacks this week.

"He got out of balance and he had that arm pinned down - you could tell, he just couldn't use it to leverage himself," Buick said. "He just kind of backpedaled and back-dove into Mark Brunell because he just didn't have that arm free."

Such is life in a harness - the protective device is adjustable, but it restricts Boulware's range of motion. He gets tied up before he ever gets blocked. At times, he almost literally is playing with one arm tied behind his back.

"When it's loose, I feel like I've got two arms," Boulware said. "When it's tight. I'm playing like this" - he pulls his arm against his body- "with one arm."

"Earlier in the year, I loosened it up when I was feeling good. This week, I had to tighten it back down. That hinders me a lot. But it helps me play. Without it, my shoulder would be coming out every play."

Tessendorf said the only proper treatment now is surgery, but Boulware is intent on finishing the season. He tries to strengthen his shoulder muscles in the week before each game, lifting weights when he is able, working manually with the trainers when he is not.

He's so competitive, he can be his own worst enemy. He suffered his first dislocation in the preseason after loosening his harness. He suffered another when the coaches allowed him to re-insert himself into a 41-9 rout at Cleveland. He doesn't seem to like taking medication.

"Peter needs to do better," Billick acknowledged Friday. "If the trainer says take the pill, take the pill. He's kind of lackadaisical. When you get a day behind in your medication, you back up the whole healing process."

Boulware, however, described the injury as "really unpredictable," and apparently he gets fooled by his good days. He was optimistic again Friday, saying: "To be honest with you, it feels a lot better than I expected it to feel. I didn't know if I could play this week. But right now, it feels pretty good."

He missed practice Wednesday before working in shorts Thursday and Friday, and will follow a similar restricted plan the rest of the season, Billick said. But Boulware said the threat of pain no longer enters his mind.

"Earlier it did, and that hindered my play," Boulware said. "Now it's like, 'You know what? I'll go at it full speed. If it happens, it happens. But at least I'm playing full speed.' Thinking about it makes me worse. I figure I'll just come out, not think about it, go full tilt."

He is a third-year veteran with the mentality of a veteran warrior. His grit has earned him the admiration of his coaches and teammates. The Ravens have named him their Ed Block Courage Award winner for 1999.

"He could have shut it down in minicamp and not played at all the whole season," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "He's basically doing it for us. He knows he's an integral part of our defense. Him being out there makes us better."

One false move, that's all it will take. But Peter Boulware refuses to give in.

"I want to play," he said. "Always."

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