Sharper just as happy in linebacking shade

Forgotten-man role doesn't faze Ravens' weak-side standout

September 20, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Jamie Sharper doesn't receive praise, just pressure.

In his entire four-year career, Sharper has been relegated to the role of third wheel on possibly the league's best linebacker unit, playing beside Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware.

Lewis has been named an All-Pro. Boulware has been named to the Pro Bowl. And Sharper? He's still establishing his name.

After last year's breakthrough season, he has continued to dig for respect this year with 14 tackles in his past two games as well as developing into a playmaker. He has three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, two forced fumbles and two passes broken up.

But that's in the job description. As the weak-side linebacker in the Ravens' defensive scheme, he is usually uncovered and has to challenge Lewis for the team lead in tackles.

"Recognition will come when the team gets better," Sharper said. "I'm not a guy that worries about recognition and getting in the spotlight. I'd rather be low-key. Some people ask: Do you want fame and fortune? I'd rather just be rich and be a nobody. I don't want the fame."

Following this season, Sharper could expect teams to show him the money.

After signing a one-year, $1.027 million tendered contract as a restricted free agent in June, he will become an unrestricted free agent in less than four months. Yet the 26-year-old linebacker shrugged off any connection between his increased aggressive play this season and a big-money deal on the horizon.

"It hasn't played any part," Sharper said. "Sometimes, I don't think I show as much as I can because we have so many good players. So when you get your shot, you got to take it."

Sharper, though, frowned at signing his tender. As a four-year starter, he said he deserved a long-term commitment before the start of the season.

But Sharper, a Richmond, Va., native, made it clear that staying with the Ravens would still be his first choice on the open market.

"I've been with this team from the ground level," said Sharper, a second-round draft pick in 1997. "I want to be around for the championship. But I can't control that. They got the three best linebackers, you'd think they'd want to keep all of them."

While the Ravens would like to keep all of them, can they realistically do so under the salary cap?

"It's going to be very tough," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Hopefully, before the end of the season, we can maybe address it. But there are a lot of issues.

"If you wait to just after the season, it doesn't mean anything other than we haven't been able to do it for any number of different reasons. It's not a matter that you don't value that athlete; it's a matter of there's just only so much to go around."

Said team vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome: "We try to keep all our good players. And I've got a commitment from ownership to do that."

Sharper was considered a work in progress his first two seasons until blossoming into a valued commodity last year, when he finished second on the team with 122 tackles. Next to Lewis, it was the most tackles made by a Ravens player in team history.

This season, Sharper managed just one tackle at Pittsburgh before registering six against Jacksonville and eight in Miami. His 13 solo tackles rank only behind Lewis' 20 on the team.

Although Sharper has always had the talent, the key has been stopping him from overanalyzing during games.

"I think he's continued the ascent," linebackers coach Jack Del Rio said. "The biggest thing that Jamie has improved on is not being too smart and too robotic because he's so conscientious and wants to do the right thing all the time. And sometimes, you just have to make a football play."

Sharper has cranked up his physical play, forcing running backs to cough up the ball twice by putting his helmet in their chests. He has reacted so well that nine of his tackles have stopped backs at a 3-yard or less gain.

"I think it's mental," Sharper said. "It's being in the right place and then trying to take somebody's head off. That's getting back to what I used to do. ... I'm not barely getting there and barely making the play. I'm there ready to make the play and then can just unload on a guy."

It's about changing games, not his status.

He isn't upset that Lewis and Boulware collect awards as long as he collects his tackles. So before long, he may be recognized more than just the Ravens' "other" linebacker.

"It's part of being in such a good defense," Sharper said. "I don't worry. I'll prove it when my time comes."

NOTE: Ray Lewis made his case for appealing a $250,000 league fine in a 30-minute conference call yesterday with NFL counsel Jeff Pash, according to a league spokesman. A decision could take from two weeks to a month.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 11 1/2

Tickets: Sold out

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