Boulware set to put injuries in past

Raven out to return to glory after 2 years of shoulder problems

May 17, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' newest weapon to their stifling defense requires no introductions.

Nonetheless, Peter Boulware feels the need to get reacquainted.

While the Ravens outside linebacker is actually entering his fifth season, he expects to start his first regular season at full health since 1998 and wants to re-establish his fearsome pass-rushing presence in the process.

His painful, two-year climb back forced him to endure two surgeries on his chronically dislocated right shoulder as well as an operation on his left shoulder. These problems basically left him with no strength in either arm for the Ravens' entire Super Bowl run.

But Boulware is now close to being completely recovered and has shifted his focus to mending any doubts about his abilities.

"My goal is to be at 100 percent physically and mentally," said Boulware after the Ravens' first day of passing camp yesterday. "When I'm at that point, I think I'll be probably one of the top at my position in this game. Some people may not feel that way, but I have that confidence in myself."

The transformation is already evident as Boulware has attacked the weight room.

In years past, nagging shoulder injuries limited any lifting. But the result of some arduous work this off-season has added 10 pounds to the upper body of the 255-pound Boulware.

With Boulware now armed, how dangerous can he become?

"He can take us to another level, defensively," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "He's a guy who provides a mismatch for the offense in whatever situation he's in. In order to do that, we need him at 100 percent."

The questions never centered on his talent, but on his frustrating and sometimes complicated rehabilitation. For the past two seasons, the Ravens have watched Boulware methodically erode.

He was applauded during the 1999 season for collecting 10 sacks despite wearing a restrictive harness on his right arm. The compliments faded last season when Boulware struggled to consistently use his surgically repaired right arm.

There were challenges to his starting spot along with embarrassing moments. During a game in Cincinnati, Boulware came untouched off a blitz and had the blind side of quarterback Akili Smith in his sights. But he whiffed, failing to wrap up Smith.

"I couldn't even make a simple tackle," said Boulware, the fourth pick overall in the 1997 draft. "I was very successful my first three seasons. I went from being at the top of my game to basically going to the bottom. Mentally, that was tough. I'm used to being good. But I'm always going to fight through."

As he tried to shed the bad habits of protecting his right shoulder, he noticed some soreness in his left shoulder heading into the playoffs. Boulware passed it off as the natural effects of an elongated season and didn't complain.

He eventually realized that he had a similar lack of power in his left arm as his right. Despite the setback, he did what he could and launched himself into running lanes throughout the Super Bowl.

A couple days after the championship win, Boulware had a routine MRI on his left shoulder, which revealed a torn labrum, the precursor to dislocations. He underwent an arthroscopic exam on Feb. 2.

By Boulware's estimation, the use of his left shoulder is more than 90 percent.

"To do what he's done is unbelievable," Lewis said. "He was always throwing his body in there. For that, he should be commended. Most people probably wouldn't be out there on the field like that. So it shows the toughness he has inside him."

Boulware will now be able to channel that aggressiveness. Known as a speed rusher, he can incorporate some power into his game with the ability to grab blockers and shed them.

That part was missing last season, when he finished with a career-low seven sacks. He managed just one sack in his final six games.

"I want my upper body and my right arm to be assets to me rather than something I'm carrying around," Boulware said. "I want to get to a point that when I put my hands on somebody, they'll feel it. Right now, I'm not there yet. But I'm on my way though."

Although there's major progress, could these injuries become a chronic problem?

"You can't say they can't reoccur with a new injury," trainer Bill Tessendorf said. "With the nature of the game, there's always a risk. The likelihood is minimized because of the surgery and increased strength."

The surgeries are done, but Boulware's work has just begun.

Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "I think it will be a pivotal year for Peter to see if indeed he can take it to that next level. He's certainly capable and willing. This could be a telling year as to whether he's going to play at a very obvious high level or whether he can truly take it up a notch."

NOTES: Backup cornerback Clarence Love left early in practice after lacerating his left pinkie. He will miss the remainder of passing camp. ... The re-signing of linebacker Cornell Brown still could occur soon and may result in a release of a veteran player for salary-cap purposes. "We're continuing to talk with the Ravens," said Terry Lavenstein, Brown's agent. ... The notable no-shows for yesterday's voluntary passing camp were linebacker Ray Lewis, tight end Shannon Sharpe, and safeties Rod Woodson and Corey Harris. "For what we want out of these guys, their presence isn't necessarily required," Billick said. ... The Ravens have tentatively scheduled June 7 for their White House visit.

Boulware's stats

A year-by-year look at outside linebacker Peter Boulware's production:

........................Team Team

Yr. Tackles rk. Sacks rk.

'97 66 6th 11.5 1st

'98 83 6th 8.5 2nd

'99 42 11th 10.0 2nd

'00 45 11th 7.0 2nd

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